Residential growth is viewed as positive economic contribution

Construction insulates county from downturn

February 06, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

While the nation is struggling with a sagging economy, Carroll County is holding up "remarkably well," according to an economist who delivered an outlook on 2003 to business, government and community leaders yesterday in Westminster.

Residential growth, which many in the county wish to stem, could insulate the area from the brunt of the downturn, said Anirban Basu, director of applied economics for Towson University's economic research arm, RESI Research & Consulting.

Basu told an audience of about 200 that housing construction is strong throughout the state, particularly in Carroll.

"Housing starts are at their highest level in 16 years and Maryland's unemployment is low" in part because of construction jobs, Basu said.

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich, who campaigned in favor of moderate growth, called the assessment "right on the button."

"We are not about slapping at growth, but about managing it and making sure it goes where we can handle it," Minnich said. "Quality of life here is definitely driving our economy and the construction industry has not escaped our notice."

Basu displayed graphs showing that Carroll's unemployment rate was by late last year one full percentage point lower than the state's and that annual personal income growth in the county is higher than in the state.

He also discussed national economic trends.

Business investment, particularly in updates to technology, could be the spark the national economy needs to recover from the slump, Basu said.

"Equipment is wearing out and business will have no choice but to invest in new," Basu said.

Carroll also is fortunate in its relatively well-educated work force, a group that tends to fare better in an uncertain economy, Basu said.

But, John T. Lyburn Jr., Carroll's economic development director, reminded the audience that 62 percent of the work force is employed outside the county.

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