Economic State of the County

October 5, 2011

Last week the Chamber hosted the State of the County luncheon and address by the Board of County Commissioners. This week our department briefed the Commissioners on the state of the local economy in preparation for the annual county budget process. Some of the information has already been reported as new information from the 2010 decennial census continues to be released. We reviewed status and trends in population, income, employment, and development.

A few weeks ago we discovered that St. Mary’s County ranked 4th in the entire nation out of some 2,000 counties in fastest median household income growth between 2007 (before the recession) and 2010. At 20.1% and an absolute increase of almost $15,000 to $88,444, we trail three smaller college town counties in income growth. Monongilia County, WV, home of West Virginia University in Morgantown; Muskogee County, OK, a former Indian territory, thus Bacone Indian College; and Scioto County, OH, home of Shawnee State University, share this attribute which we’ve learned of late is good insurance during recessionary times. To our benefit, the quality of defense-related jobs tends to be better. Our median household income is more than twice each of these three counties. Note that during this same period the state and nation both experienced declines in real median household income. In fact, incomes are at their lowest points nationally and statewide since the high water mark in 1999. Locally this last decade, our county incomes are ahead by 59% while Leonardtown lead all jurisdictions with a 72% growth in incomes.

Why this is of course is the blessing of more than 10,000 jobs created at NAS Patuxent since the BRAC rounds of the 1990s. These jobs have multiplied twice over or more in related products and services occupations outside the fence line.

Overall, the state of the local economy is relatively strong. Maryland’s First County continues to earn this title for more than historic reasons. Not only do we lead the state in income growth rate, but also in population growth rate. We rank in the top tier of counties in lowest unemployment rates. We have an entrepreneurial climate that finds more women business owners per capita than most places in the country. We have great
schools at the primary, secondary, and higher education levels. We award pre-school diplomas and PhD degrees.

At the same time, our economy is slow. As it is everywhere. While our unemployment rate is fifth lowest in the state at 6.5%, it’s twice the rate of 4 years ago. And it’s not moving. Continued high unemployment, tight lending, developer and investor uncertainty combine to produce a “make
do” sentiment at all levels, from households to large organizations, whether private, public, or non-profit sectors. Continued increases in federal budget constraints have and will affect a slowdown in defense industry sector growth, our major economic engine. At the same time, the Lexington Park Development District (LPDD) Master Plan Update affords us an opportunity to target growth in an area with the greatest need.

What can we do to sustain this momentum? Increasingly the answer involves partnership with groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Patuxent
Partnership, Navy Alliance, Small Business Development Center, NAVAIR Office of Small Business, Naval Aviation Small Business Roundtable, Leonardtown BusinessAssociation, Lexington Park Business & Community Association, and others. Continued focus on workforce development with our education partners will help grow the next generation employee.

Future job growth will occur in the existing defense economy, especially in the areas of unmanned systems and irregular warfare. New growth is possible through diversification in Hospitality & Tourism, Technology Transfer, Rapid Prototyping & Specialized Manufacturing, and Agriproduction. The need is greater than ever for small businesses to assist in and frankly lead diversification efforts. Significant change typically does not come from within established organizations. Perhaps most important is the opportunity to stimulate diversification through redevelopment in the core of Lexington Park.

The LPDD Master Plan Update provides a template, but targeted economic incentives will help realize the plan.

Bob Schaller
Director, Economic and Community Development


Tags: , ,