Smart (job) growth

October 25, 2007

The decision by Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price to build two new office buildings and add 1,400 jobs to its Owings Mills campus says much about the Baltimore area's economic future. By any standard, these are desirable jobs - well-paying positions in a nonpolluting industry. By maintaining its headquarters in Baltimore, the investment management company has also demonstrated a strong sense of corporate responsibility. This is a company that has served the region well.

But T. Rowe Price's decision also reinforces our view that any evaluation of the friendliness of Maryland's business climate ought to begin with the state's most important resource - its citizens. A well-educated, skilled work force is Maryland's prime attraction for employers in the financial services and other white-collar industries.

The new workers in Owings Mills will have much the same duties as those who work there now - retail mutual-fund services, marketing, information technology. And with these new jobs, T. Rowe will become Baltimore County's largest private, for-profit employer (not counting retail chains), surpassing the steelworkers of Sparrows Point.

When was the last time the county's largest private employer wasn't a manufacturer? You'd have to go back generations. Even then, employers usually located with an eye to natural resources, not the human resources they are looking for today.

High-quality public schools, world-class higher education and effective transportation systems - those are the investments that can keep Maryland's economy competitive. If there is a shortcoming to the Owings Mills expansion, it's only that new employees are clearly expected to commute by car; the project includes two new parking garages with more than 1,000 spaces.

That's unfortunate, but given the modest regional transit systems that exist today (aside from the limited Metro), it's also understandable. Providing better access to growing county employment centers such as Owings Mills, White Marsh and Hunt Valley in the not-too-distant future ought to be a top priority for the state.

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