WASHINGTON – St. Mary’s County was ranked the nation’s 20th fastest-growing micropolitan area between 2000 and 2003 by a recent U.S. Census Bureau study.
The study looked at population growth of micropolitan statistical areas, which are areas composed of one or more counties that contain an urban cluster of 10,000 to 49,999 people.
The county gained 6,543 people for an estimated total population of about 93,000.
But the county sees its ranking as more of a statistical oddity than a case of phenomenal growth.
Its 7.6 percent population increase in the last few years is not a big change from previous years, said John Savich, the county’s director of economic and community development.
“As is often the case in St. Mary’s County, we’re an anomaly,” Savich said. St. Mary’s, although it is closer to Washington than places like Hagerstown or Bel Air, is not considered part of the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area, which extends from the northern Maryland border to parts of West Virginia to Fredericksburg, Va., and over to the Delaware border.
One reason St. Mary’s is excluded is that about 70 percent of the county’s residents work within the county.
“We are in a metropolitan area that is growing. We have all the dynamics of being near a major metropolitan area,” Savich said. “But we’re not a commuter county.”
Most of the growth in St. Mary’s County is attributed to migration from within the United States, according to the Census Bureau study.
That can largely be attributed to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, which provides about 20,000 jobs in the area and draws defense contractors from national and international corporations, said Bill Scarafia, president of the county’s Chamber of Commerce.
While the base provides a number of defense jobs, Scarafia said, “a lot of businesses are expanding and becoming successful not because they do business with the base, but because the base is there.”
The service industry, banking, health care and other industries saw a surge when the station grew during the base closures of the 1990s, he said.
The county is still growing, Scarafia said, “it just hasn’t been with the same intensity that it was then.”
Because the county is bordered on three sides by the Potomac River, the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay, and because of its historical value – it was the first capital of Maryland – hospitality and tourism industries are on the rise, Scarafia said, with the addition of a handful of new hotels in the last five years.
From 1996 to 2001, St. Mary’s population growth percentage outpaced the state and national growth, but was not as high as Charles or Calvert Counties, according to the Maryland Department of Planning.
St. Mary’s growth seems to be consistent from year to year, said Savich, and when compared to all other counties in the nation, rather than the Census Bureau’s micropolitan areas, it ranks low in terms of growth. -30- CNS 9