Maryland economy looking stronger

Survey of businesses finds more adding jobs, taking in more revenue

November 14, 2003|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

More Maryland firms saw revenue and employment growth in the third quarter than did in the previous three months, according to a University of Baltimore report, and analysts said the report offers hope for a stronger Maryland economy in the coming year.

"More firms are expecting to grow than are currently growing, so we can expect performance to continue to improve," said Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research at the university's Jacob France Institute.

The Maryland Business Climate Survey, which regularly polls 250 local companies in key sectors of the state's economy, has been conducted quarterly since 1995. The Jacob France Institute expects this week's report to be the last because funding from businesses has lapsed and the university, dealing with budget cuts, can no longer pay for it.

Forty-seven percent of the businesses surveyed said their revenues went up in the three months that ended Sept. 30, compared with 43 percent in the second quarter.

Thirty-five percent of the surveyed companies added employees, up from 31 percent the previous quarter, helping to explain why Maryland's unemployment rate remains one of the lowest in the nation.

In the third quarter, fewer businesses said they expect growth next year, though more than half still had high hopes.

Firms anticipating revenue growth dropped to 63 percent from 76 percent the previous quarter. Fifty-two percent expected to hire extra workers, down from 60 percent in the second quarter.

Just 11 percent of the companies considered the state either business unfriendly or anti-business, a record low in the history of the survey. Unhappiness peaked at 28 percent in 1997 during Parris N. Glendening's administration, though the numbers improved in his second term as governor.

The portion of companies viewing the state as pro-business or business-friendly dipped to 57 percent in the third quarter from the record-high of 59 percent the previous three months.

The low point was 1996, when only a third were happy with the state.

"The business community sees this as their administration," Clinch said.

"This governor has said he's going to build the Intercounty Connector, hold the line on taxes and make Maryland more business friendly. If you're a business person, what more could you ask for?"

William Burns, spokesman for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said business owners believe Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is paying more attention to them, and they're responding to that.

"Things like that are all perception," Burns said. "I think the Ehrlich administration has done a great job of getting the word out that business has a seat at the table, that they're going to take input from the business community before they make their policy decisions. ... It's sending the right message."

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