In Maryland, jobs recovery uneven

Some counties have recovered all recessionary losses; some aren't close

  • Dwayne Wesley a picker and packer at the warehouse fills an order as he walks through the warehouse. The recession and its long aftermath affected different parts of the state in wildly disparate ways, a Sun analysis shows.
Dwayne Wesley a picker and packer at the warehouse fills an order… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
December 21, 2013|By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun

To understand how unevenly the recession and recovery rippled across Maryland, consider its economic extremes.

At one end, there's Anne Arundel County. Its employment base was 7 percent larger this spring than it was five years earlier, a gain of 17,000 new jobs. A major driver of that growth, Fort Meade, is now the state's single largest employer — so big it hires thousands of people each year "just because of attrition," said installation spokeswoman Mary Doyle.

At the other end, just a few dozen miles away, is Talbot County. Buffeted by the housing bust like much of the Eastern Shore, its job base shrank faster than Anne Arundel's grew — a steep 8 percent drop.

"Companies laid off people and didn't hire them back," said Paige Bethke, Talbot's economic development director. "They hired [via] temporary jobs."

And Baltimore County remains a laggard, hammered by the closure of the Sparrows Point steel mill and cuts elsewhere.

Most of Maryland's counties remained in a job deficit this spring, with recessionary losses that had yet to be erased, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis of U.S. Labor Department figures released this month. One — Somerset County on the Eastern Shore — never had even the glimmer of a recovery, according to the analysis of April-June employment over the past five years.

And yet seven counties had more jobs. One — St. Mary's in Southern Maryland — did not experience losses.

Overall, Maryland had slightly more jobs in November than at the start of the recession, according to a separate employment survey released Friday by the Labor Department. But the state was still in the hole last spring.

Economist Anirban Basu sees a common denominator in most of the state's fastest-growing places: Washington. St. Mary's County is home to Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Anne Arundel gained thousands of jobs during the national military base realignment known as BRAC. Harford County, with a job base up 6 percent in the past five years, is another BRAC beneficiary.

"The communities that have tended to fare the best are the communities most closely attached to the federal government," said Basu, head of Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic and policy consulting firm.

But federal agencies did not always grow enough to overcome job losses in other sectors.

Baltimore County, headquarters of the Social Security Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, suffered the area's steepest job losses. Problems started during the recession and continued with the closure of Sparrows Point last year, which erased more than 2,000 jobs.

"There's so many people out of work ... that it's like five people looking for one job," said Robert Goode, who worked at the mill for 34 years in maintenance and fabrication.

Goode, a 55-year-old Baltimore resident, is training to repair air-conditioning and heating systems to improve his chances. He's used to hard work and long hours, but he's afraid the city and county employers he's applied to counted him out because he's older.

Among the places he tried: the company demolishing the steel mill.

"They didn't call back," he said.

Like the state, the Baltimore region was split between growth and loss. Three counties — Howard, Anne Arundel and Harford — expanded their job bases by at least 6 percent when the nation overall remained in the hole.

Some additions were big, such as the Maryland Live Casino, which added 3,000 jobs since opening in Hanover last year. Or Fort Meade, which has 49,000 employees and is responsible for so many new jobs in the past five years — on base and in contractors' offices — that it is a key reason why Anne Arundel added 17,000 positions during that period.

"We definitely would have been in a more difficult spot without it," said Mary Burkholder, executive vice president of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.

Other job growth in the region came five at a time here, a dozen there, quickly adding up. Belcamp-based Nisbets Inc., which sells food-service equipment and supplies, opened last year with eight people, is now at 10 and expects to add one or two more next year.

"That's been our contribution to the local economic boom," said Shane Mummery, Nisbets' general manager.

And though some defense contractors have cut back amid tighter federal budgets, the sector helped fuel growing Baltimore-area counties. Virginia-based ManTech International, for instance, has added about 700 jobs since 2010 in the Baltimore region, largely in Hanover to service work for Fort Meade and in Belcamp for Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County.

But half the Baltimore region shed jobs.

Carroll County and Baltimore City each lost 2.5 percent of their jobs base. Baltimore County — the region's largest economy — lost nearly 4.5 percent, more than 16,000 jobs, according to federal data.

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