The Economic Outlook for St. Mary's

Commentary by Bob Schaller, Dept. of Economic Development, St. Mary's County

Last month I talked about development, our future, and the importance of voting for our future. Today starts that future.

As most of today's news is about yesterday, I'll just offer a quick statistical update. September unemployment by county, reported on Friday, reveals again that Southern Maryland's 2010 YTD unemployment rate is the lowest in Maryland. In fact, at 6% the County and region are lower than 45 other states in the U.S. in September 2010. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only the Dakotas and Nebraska out west and New Hampshire and Vermont to the north, all sparsely populated states, have unemployment rates under 6%. How sparsely populated are these 5 low unemployment states? Their combined 2009 population was less than the state of Maryland's population, representing but 1.7% of the entire U.S. population. I'd like to think that our County and region's rural peninsula setting offers similar quality of life benefits as these low unemployment comparison states. Maybe there's a variable here worth exploring more, but later. While our unemployment rate remains high, the point worth emphasizing — again and again — is that we remain very strong in relative comparison with not only our state but the nation as a whole.

In the past several weeks we've been updating other important data points in preparation for briefing our new Commissioner Board that takes office in a month. The update looks at demographics, jobs, income, housing, permits, business activity, land preservation, tourism, and taxes. I am happy to share this data with anyone and everyone interested. The story the data tells about us is amazing. Some highpoints: St. Mary's has the youngest population of all the Maryland counties, the largest concentration of veterans in the state, average wages that are 2nd highest in the state (Maryland is the wealthiest state in the union), the highest in-commute rate (work/live ratio of 74%) of all Maryland suburban counties, and the lowest foreclosure rates in the region. Over the past 15 years we have also preserved nearly 20,000 acres of agricultural land, and this does not include all the acreage set aside by the federal, state, and local governments in park, heritage, habitat, shoreline, and for other strategic purposes. More recently, tourism, now our 2nd largest industry, has recorded visitation rates here that are among the strongest in Maryland. As I've said often, Southern Maryland, of which we anchor, has emerged as a place where people truly come to live, work, and enjoy.

There are many challenges the newly elected Board of Commissioners will face over the next 4 years. Just one local data point to consider: our local school system population, public and private, will approach 20,000 by 2014. That's an increase of more than 5,000 students or 33% growth since 2000. Our entire population didn't reach 20,000 until after NAS Pax was built. And that was in some of our lifetimes (at least 10% of countians according to the Census Bureau). Welcome the future.

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