WASHINGTON – Rural counties grew by 14 percent from 1990-98, more than double the growth rate of the state’s bigger counties, according to new Census Bureau figures.
But while the rural counties were growing faster, the urban counties were growing bigger. Montgomery County alone added more than 78,600 residents since the beginning of the decade, almost half of the total amount added by the 17 smaller counties in the same period.
The 5.5 percent growth rate of the Big Seven — Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — translated into an additional 202,846 residents.
The 14.1 percent growth rate posted by the remaining 17 counties reflected a population increase of 151,209.
“Some of the counties, like Calvert County, are growing unbelievably percentage-wise,” said Mike Lettre of the Maryland Office of Planning. But he said growth rates can be misleading.
“Better off using difference in numbers if you want to see where people are going,” Lettre said.
Calvert County’s 39.9 percent growth rate was highest in the state. More than 20,500 people have moved to Calvert since 1990, boosting the county population to an estimated 71,877.
The three Southern Maryland counties — Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s — had the highest one-year growth rates in the state from 1997 to 1998, according to the census data that was released last week.
David M. Jenkins, executive director of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, attributed the population surge to new jobs and urban flight. The Patuxent River Naval Air Station alone has brought more than 1,000 jobs to St. Mary’s County, Jenkins said.
“It’s a combination of job opportunity and a larger amount of people taking advantage of a quality area,” Jenkins said. “The low-density residential development and farming activity that give (the area) that `open space’ and `rural character’ is still prevalent in a large portion of the region.”
But not all rural counties are sharing in the growth spurt. Population was steady or declined in some counties, said Stephen McHenry, executive director of the Forvm for Rural Maryland.
“It’s a mixed bag for rural areas,” McHenry said.
“You’ve got the second-tier — Frederick, Carroll and Southern Maryland — as suburban sprawl has continued,” he said. “Then you’ve got the distressed areas in Appalachia and the Eastern Shore. If not out-migration then they have small growth … and the young people aren’t staying.”
Allegany County lost 3,613 residents, falling 4.8 percent in the past eight years, while Dorchester County’s population fell by 2.4 percent, or 733 residents.
Not all of the Big Seven were booming either. The biggest drop in population — both in numbers and in percentages — was in Baltimore City, which lost 90,421 residents and saw its population fall 12.3 percent, to 645,593.
If the city’s numbers are excluded, the growth rate for the remaining urban jurisdictions jumps from 5.5 percent to 9.9 percent.
A spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan said the suburban county’s population is booming because new jobs are luring people there.
“It’s not so much the building of new homes that is bringing in the people, it is the jobs that are created,” said David S. Weaver, the spokesman. “Montgomery County is the economic engine of the state. We lead the state in high-tech jobs.”
Weaver said Montgomery’s “growth was planned growth, it didn’t just happen,” and the county was prepared.
“There is `Smart Growth’ which the governor coined and made fashionable, but that was something that Montgomery County was doing 20 years ago,” Weaver said.
Overall, Maryland’s population grew by 354,055 people, or 7.4 percent, to an estimated 5.1 million in 1998. The state’s growth rate was slightly below the national increase of 8.7 percent since 1990, census figures showed.