The good news

February 21, 2005

IT'S NOT JUST the construction cranes casting shadows around town, it's the crews operating them. It's not just the new clothing store and restaurant down the block, it's all the clerks and waiters keeping them open. Baltimore has more people working now than it has had since summer 2001, according to the Labor Department. If not a bona fide trend, it's a mighty encouraging sign, and one the city, state and neighborhoods should work hard to maintain.

Baltimore's employment figures in 2004 rose - slightly, then solidly - 11 of the 12 months, year over year. There were about 7,400 more people working in the city in December 2004 than in December 2003. The numbers reversed years of consistent declines and finally erased the 10,000-job deficit the city suffered between 2001 and 2003.

The city's plus-sign economic activity also bolstered the region's figures: The Baltimore area ranked a heartening ninth in growth of 39 metropolitan areas its size.

Industries such as health services, education and construction and entrepreneurs of all kinds did much of the hiring, offering work at all levels. Long-term commercial developments such as those on the west side and along Broadway and the east side are chugging along, while the housing market in many areas continues to sizzle.

As many people are moving into the city as are leaving it, according to Census figures, reversing another decline and proving false the common notion that everyone who works downtown lives in the counties. Forty percent of downtown workers now live in the city, according to the Downtown Partnership, a business advocacy group.

Of course, this is good for the city, which needs tax dollars and a vibrant population. But it's even better for the state. A central city that can again add to state revenues could dispel the persistent gloom of projected debt Maryland faces.

Will it last this time? The most recent revivals, in 1999 and 1988, were short-lived. General Motors will close its Broening Highway plant this year, which will mean 1,100 jobs lost. And it's not clear how long the homeland security buildup, a new spigot for jobs in the region, will continue.

Baltimore is improving at its core, though. Mature commercial development, such as around the Inner Harbor, is staying steady. Colleges are adding researchers - and some, like the University of Maryland's Baltimore campus, are adding students and staff to the city's neighborhoods. The booming yuppie enclaves along the waterfront and on Reservoir Hill are expanding deeper into the city, improving their next-door neighborhoods. Success builds on success.

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