WASHINGTON – Calvert County remained the fastest-growing county in the state from 2001 to 2002, according to Census figures released today, a trend that local officials attribute to the region’s ready job availability.
But while Calvert’s 4.1 percent growth far outstripped the state growth of 1.3 percent, the biggest gains in sheer numbers came in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which added more than 15,000 and 13,000 residents, respectively.
In contrast, Baltimore City lost 6,691 residents, the most by far of the three jurisdictions that lost population, according to Census estimates of county population as of July 1, 2002.
City officials were not pleased with the numbers.
“We’re not ready to fully accept this estimate,” said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office. “This level of population loss is a far cry from the mid-90s when Baltimore was losing almost twice as many.”
Growth in Calvert County comes mostly from families with small children, who move there because of good school systems, said Linda Vassallo, director of the county’s Department of Economic Development.
But she said the county is “also starting to see an influx of retirement housing.” Vasallo credited Calvert’s growth to its quality of life and its accessibility to the District and other parts of Maryland.
There are downsides to the growth, though.
“The biggest concern is being able to keep up at the service side of the local government level,” Vasallo said, including education, housing and roads. “We’re doing our best to keep pace with that.”
Prince George’s County officials also noted the importance of jobs to the county’s growth.
“It’s because the Washington region is such a creator of jobs that the jurisdictions in the metro area are attractive for people to move into,” said Joe Valenza, an economist with the Prince George’s County Planning Department.
Prince George’s County added 13,288 residents, mainly from a combination of natural growth and migration from the District, Valenza said.
“We still have room for additional new development,” he said. “So as long as job creation is going on somewhere in Washington metro area, there’s going to be growth, but not necessarily in same jurisdiction” as the new jobs, Valenza added.
Immigrants are the driving force behind growth in Montgomery County, said Drew Dedrick, chief demographer for the county, which added 15,135 residents for the year.
“We have about half the state’s immigrant population,” he said. “Ours (immigrants) tend to come from all over the place. There isn’t any major group.”
The strongest job growth in the county has been in the service industry, Dedrick said.
“There are demands for service jobs in all aspects of the economy, from retail to lawn maintenance to accountants,” he said. “It’s a broad category.”
While Baltimore City officials challenged the continued population decline, other officials said the loss is not surprising.
Mike Lettre, director of Maryland’s Planning Data Services Division, said the suburbs have steadily stolen population from Baltimore for the last few decades. And Baltimore, unlike Washington, D.C., lacks enough foreign immigration to make up the balance, he said.
Overall, the state added 72,058 residents, bringing the total population to 5.39 million, according to the estimates.
While the strong Maryland numbers are encouraging, indicating relative job strength in the state compared to the rest of the country, Lettre cautioned that such growth rates are usually not sustained for long periods of time.
“We’re leaning toward faring as well or better than many other parts of the country right now,” Lettre said.
But, he cautioned, “these things tend to ebb and flow.”