WASHINGTON – Job growth in Frederick County outpaced the rest of the state between 1999 and 2003, owing largely to a bioscience industry that is driven by the Army’s biological defense and research facility at Fort Detrick.
Frederick County added 10,170 jobs during the five-year period, an employment growth rate of 13.4 percent that was tops in the state, according to a Capital News Service analysis of employment data from Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
But while Frederick was growing at the fastest rate, Montgomery County retained its title as the state’s economic engine, adding 25,563 jobs, the most of any area during the period.
Baltimore City, meanwhile, home to many of the state’s traditional manufacturing firms, lost 1.7 percent of it jobs over the same period.
Frederick officials attributed their success to a variety of factors.
“We’re not recession proof, but I’d say we’re recession resistant because of the diversity of our economy,” said Marie Keegin, director of economic development at the Frederick County Office of Economic Development. “Biotechs are finding the price of land and buildings here to be better than closer in to the metropolitan area.”
Keegin said other factors fueling the area’s growth include Frederick’s location at the crossroads of Interstates 70 and 270, as well as its location in a wider region that is generally doing well.
Those attributes helped Peter L. Nara decide to stay in the area after he left his job as a tenured section chief at Fort Detrick to co-found Biological Mimetics Inc., which develops vaccines for human and veterinary medicine.
“I knew about the housing market, schools, tax base, and we felt Frederick would form one corner of a (bioscience) industry triangle that includes Baltimore and Washington,” said Nara, who is now chairman and chief executive officer of BMI.
And the bioscience industry, once closed to only those with advanced degrees, is now tapping into a broader workforce in the Frederick area.
“A number of companies in the area are now engaged in bioscience manufacturing that doesn’t require a high level of education or training,” said Laurie Holden, director of the Frederick County Job Training Agency. “It’s made it (bioscience) one of our high-demand, high-growth industries for jobs.”
Like Frederick County, the Southern Maryland counties of Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s also added a high percentage of jobs. The area’s 12.9 percent job increase stems from its proximity to Washington and the rise in contract spending at such government facilities as Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary’s County, local officials said.
“People don’t realize that we’re closer to Washington than Reston (Va.) or Columbia (Md.),” said Marcia Keeth Stevenson, marketing director for the Charles County Economic Development Commission. “But it’s that proximity that has made Southern Maryland an important player in the Washington-area economy.”
Statewide, average job growth amounted to 6.5 percent during the five-year period ending in 2003. But not all areas did that well.
Baltimore City lost roughly 9,000 jobs that analysts largely attribute to mass layoffs at manufacturing facilities.
“The city has focused on downtown development and tourism and gave up on it (manufacturing),” said Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore’s Jacob France Institute.
“During the period (1999-2003), over one-half the jobs lost were in manufacturing,” Clinch said. “But you can’t do much to stop the hemorrhaging when you’re focused elsewhere.”
He said Baltimore was no different than any other major city when it came to shedding manufacturing jobs in recent years.
But he also said the city’s worst days may be behind it.
“Baltimore has turned the corner in many ways, with more building taking place during the first four years of the (Mayor Martin) O’Malley administration versus the first five or six years of the (former Mayor Kurt) Schmoke administration,” Clinch said. “The city has a better future than people would have predicted four years ago.”
Clinch said there has been more investment in Baltimore in the past four years than the preceding 10, pointing to biotech parks that will soon employ roughly 11,000 as one sign of that investment.
“The city won’t compete with Frederick County and elsewhere when it comes to job growth,” he said, “but it clearly can stop being an anchor around the state’s economy.”
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