WASHINGTON – Maryland’s population grew more slowly than the nation as a whole and significantly slower than Virginia from 2004 to 2005, but that trend is expected to reverse in the next few years.
Virginia, which had three of the country’s top 10 fastest-growing counties last year, outpaced Maryland with a growth rate of 1.15 percent to Maryland’s .7 percent. Numerically, Virginia gained more than twice the number of residents as Maryland, 86,133 to 39,056, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Maryland also lagged behind the United States, which grew .94 percent in 2005.
Three Maryland counties, Allegany, Garrett and Worcester, shrank last year. The biggest gainers were Caroline County, 2.4 percent, Cecil County, 2.4 percent, Charles County, 2.3 percent, and Wicomico County, 2.0 percent. Virginia’s Loudoun, King George and Caroline counties all grew more than 6 percent last year.
Maryland’s largest counties, Montgomery and Prince George’s, have seen slowing population growth for the last two years. Montgomery grew by 5,952 people in 2005 and 5,558 in 2004, after gaining an average of 12,509 the previous three years. Prince George’s added 4,481 in 2005 and 6,483 in 2004, after averaging 10,793 from 2001 to 2003.
The state may have been fortunate to experience slow growth the past couple years, said Chris Foster, deputy secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development. The Department of Defense’s 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process benefited Maryland more than any other state, and is expected to bring more than 9,000 people to the state.
“We’re expecting a real big surge because of BRAC,” Foster said. “We’ve been looking at projections of 50,000-80,000 new jobs in the next three years.”
Such a large influx of people will put added stress on roads, schools, water supplies, sewage and power facilities, Foster said, and the state is planning for their arrival now.
Aerospace, defense and biotechnology are among industries in Maryland that are booming as a result of federal spending. Those high-paying jobs create a need for many more entry-level jobs in the food and service industries.
With Maryland’s unemployment rate at 3.6 percent last month, Foster said the state is already experiencing a workforce shortage. Population increases and low unemployment create a whole new set of problems, he said. People who take entry-level jobs tend to not have cars, and that will put greater stress on public transportation. He predicts the new jobs will drive up housing costs as well.
“It’s a big deal,” Foster said. “That’s like adding a city.”
The first half of the battle was to preserve the military positions already in place, said Henry Fawell, spokesman for Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich. The test that Maryland now faces is creating the infrastructure capable of handling a significant population increase over the next six years, he said.
“The governor fully expects this to improve our already (robust) economy,” Fawell said. “The individuals moving to Maryland are highly trained and highly skilled, and this new influx will only build on our success.”
– 30 – CNS-3-16-06