WASHINGTON – Southern Maryland had the highest economic growth rate in the state from 2000 to 2001, with all three counties finishing in the top five for rates of job growth, business growth and payroll, according to a recent Census report.
In terms of absolute growth, the state’s biggest counties still trumped the smaller Southern Maryland counties, according to the 2001 County Business Patterns report.
It showed that Montgomery County had the biggest jump in businesses, going from 25,631 to 25,967 for the year; Baltimore City had the largest growth in jobs, from 298,378 to 305,394; and Baltimore County had the largest growth in payroll, from $10 billion a year to $10.6 billion.
But in terms of percentage growth, St. Mary’s County led the state in payroll, increasing 11 percent from 2000 to 2001, and had the second-highest job growth rate at 4.41 percent, trailing only Dorchester County’s 4.64 percent job growth rate.
Calvert County had the third-highest job growth rate, at 3.84 percent. It had the second-highest growth rate for business establishments, at about 4 percent, trailing only Caroline County’s 4.39 percent. And Calvert’s payroll growth rate of more than 9 percent was fourth-highest in the state.
Calvert was the only county with top-five rate gains in all three categories.
Charles County had the fourth-fastest business growth rate, at more than 2 percent, and the third-highest payroll increase at more than 8 percent.
Southern Maryland officials point to the increase in defense spending and tourism in the region, and the fact that the word about the region is finally getting out.
“It’s a very beautiful place to live, the quality of life is high, and there’s the proximity to the city,” said Linda S. Vassallo, director of Calvert County’s Department of Economic Development.
It is also home to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary’s County, which saw a growth spurt in the late ’90s that was fueled by the addition of the high-tech workforce at the base. The county’s latest economic report said it has the largest share of high-tech employment in the private sector in Maryland.
“Our economy is driven by defense spending,” said John Savich, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic and Community Development. “We’re not a bedroom community, we’re a rural county with a thriving technology corridor at the center.”
The defense industry continues to be good to the county, with spending up sharply in the wake of 9/11 and U.S. fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But tourism has also helped drive Southern Maryland’s economic growth in the past few years, said Herman Schieke, tourism specialist for Calvert County’s Department of Economic Development. Between 2000 and 2001, he said, the county saw a 5 percent increase in tourism jobs.
“People are discovering Calvert County and they bring their families here for recreational activities,” Schieke said.
While tourism in Washington, D.C., flagged after the terrorist attacks of 2001, Schieke said Calvert County saw an increase in tourism because “people wanted to get away from the big city, and they were sick of hearing about security.”
Vasallo said business owners are also fleeing the big city for a different environment.
“The larger counties are too congested, you can’t get around as quickly,” she said. “After a certain point in life, quality of life comes into play . . . plus we have a good educational system.”
That point was echoed by Sally Jameson, executive director of Charles County Chamber of Commerce.
“We are a booming residential community, the housing is reasonable, and CEOs are looking to live where they work,” Jameson said.
Despite the growth, county officials say they do not think Southern Maryland counties will follow the path of larger, urban counties.
“Elected officials want business growth in Southern Maryland, but they want it to be a nice place to live as well,” Vassallo said. “They have put regulations in place to limit commercial growth to town centers.”
Statewide, the Census report said the number of employees grew by roughly 1.6 percent, business establishments grew by about 0.6 percent and payroll increased about 4.7 percent. The Census defines employment as full- and part- time employees who were on the payroll during the pay period that includes March 12.