A perspective by the Dept. of Economic Development for St. Mary's County
LEONARDTOWN, Md. (April 29, 2009)—Southern Maryland's population continues to grow faster than any other region in the state. From 2000 to 2008, the 17.7% growth rate recorded here is almost 3 times the rate of the state's growth rate of 6.4%. This decade the three Southern Maryland counties rank 1, 2, and 3 in highest growth rates in Maryland: Calvert, St. Mary's, and Charles in that order. The regional population reached just under 1/3 million in 2008.
The key reason for this growth of course is jobs, and jobs in our core industries of defense technology and energy. We are blessed in St. Mary's with the region's largest single employer in NAS Patuxent River, where 22,400 employees - civilian, military, and contractor - go to work everyday. More people work at NAS Pax than at any single private employer in the entire state of Maryland, including Verizon, Lockheed-Martin, Wal-Mart, McCormick, Marriott, and others.
Charles County is home to NSWC Indian Head with an employment base of more than 3,200. We also have great employers in the energy industry throughout the tri-county including SMECO, Mirant (Chalk Point and Morgantown), Constellation Energy (Calvert Cliffs), Dominion (Cove Point), and others. Collectively, thousands work in our energy industry. All our vital support industries including health care, education, and professional services, as well as retail, hospitality, tourism, and others are growing alongside our core employers.
Other indicators of growth include school enrollments, up 7.7% since 2000 as a region, compared with a net reduction statewide. The number of business establishments is up 20.2% in Southern Maryland between 1998 and 2006. Statewide growth is 10.8% over the same time frame.
And future growth is expected to continue. Major programs coming to NAS Pax over the coming months and years include the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the P8-A Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA), a number of Rotary Wing programs, and an expanding list of Unmanned Air Systems platforms. At present there are 400 to 500 open jobs at NAS Pax waiting to be filled. Most are highly-skilled positions needing specialized experience that won't be filled easily. To help close this employment gap a homegrown workforce strategy is underway. Key partnerships between NAS Pax and the local school system and institutions of higher education including the College of Southern Maryland and the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center are vital components. Add nationally-ranked St. Mary's College, the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training, three very fine career and technology centers, and programs yet to be developed, all combine to raise the quality of our workforce to a level that would rival any in the state and across the nation.
While our economy may have slowed in the short-term, especially in sectors like residential construction and retail, the core industries of defense technology and energy remain strong and poised to position Southern Maryland as an indisputable strategic employment center for years and decades to come.