GBC Economic Outlook Conference speakers make projections for the Maryland and regional economies

An economist and five Baltimore-area economic development executives painted a picture of an economy in the Greater Baltimore region that is finally beginning to rebound after the great recession.

What follows are takeaways from the Greater Baltimore Committee’s annual Economic Outlook Conference on October 23. The theme was “A Look Ahead: The Maryland and Regional Economic Outlook.”

R. Andrew Bauer, regional economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond – Baltimore Office, said the question is “are we there yet and what is ‘there.’ It has been the case for a number of years now that we’ve had very sub-par economic growth nationally and here in Maryland we’ve been lagging the nation.”

  • “What’s impacting our region over the last couple years have been cutbacks in federal spending. Those cutbacks have been very severe. You can trace out the impact of cuts in federal spending on labor markets and output for the regional economy. I think the worst of the cuts have taken place and what you are starting to slowly see is the impact of those cuts dissipate, which would set the stage for stronger growth in 2015.”
  • “The way that I would describe next year is that it’s not going to be an exciting time but a steady time. Growth is going to be a little more moderate next year. For Maryland it’s going to be a year of catch up. Right now the pace of growth in terms of job growth is a third of what it is at the national rate. I don’t think that we’ll get there by the end of the year but I expect job growth to pick up above 1 percent this year. I see the unemployment rate coming back down again to below 6 [percent] in the mid 5s [percent]. It’s tough to anticipate a really strong turnaround in the housing market next year but I expect the pace of the recovery in the housing market to pick up somewhat.”

To view Bauer’s presentation, click here.

Economic development executives from Baltimore City, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties discussed current and projected growth in their respective jurisdictions.

William H. Cole IV, president and CEO of Baltimore Development Corporation, described activity – projects and development – he said are happening in the next 12 to 36 months.

  • Cole said there are a number of conversion projects – converting commercial buildings to residential usage – which has allowed for “unprecedented growth in that sector,” as well as the expansion of Under Armour’s Baltimore headquarters and the build out of Harbor Point.
  • Cole called the proposed Red Line a “once in a lifetime opportunity to focus on a major rail plan.” “The opportunities that it presents for Baltimore in particular, transit-oriented development over the next decade, are beyond description,” Cole said. “We have an opportunity to truly transform East and West Baltimore using rail and transit-oriented develop opportunities, maximizing those stops including residential mixed-use development.”

James C. Richardson, director of the Harford County Office of Economic Development, acknowledged Maryland is lagging behind in job creation but highlighted economic successes in Harford County. “Generally things are working in the right direction,” said Richardson, noting the region’s reliance on Baltimore City. “The region depends on a strong urban core and we will benefit from that.”

  • Richardson said a major asset to Harford County is Aberdeen Proving Ground, which he said is the third largest employer in the state. In addition, Harford County is enjoying growth in the technology sector.
  • A “bright spot” in the county is manufacturing and distribution, Richardson said.

Edward C. Rothstein, president and CEO of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation, highlighted what is happening in Anne Arundel County.

  • Rothstein said key businesses in Anne Arundel County include Northrop Grumman, Southwest Airlines, Anne Arundel Medical Center and Baltimore Washington Medical Center and that the county has 16 areas it is working to renew as part of its community revitalization program.
  • Rothstein touted that Anne Arundel County’s unemployment rate is “a little bit lower than the state” and median income is near $90,000. “The environment and the processes that have been put in place over the last few years are allowing us to continue to grow and I believe that’s happening through a lot of the partnership that we see today,” he said.

Lawrence F. Twele, CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, discussed growth Howard County, particularly in Columbia. “We’ve seen activity really pick up over the past several months,” he said.

  • Twele highlighted the National Security Agency and Fort Meade as employers for Howard County residents and an influx of employers in Columbia, which he called a “growth area for the county. It’s booming.”
  • Twele said there are cyber, health, manufacturing and information technology job opportunities in Howard County, which he said is “a busy, busy place and we’re looking forward to the future.”

Helga T. Weschke, deputy director of the Baltimore County Department of Economic and Workforce Development, highlighted what Baltimore County is doing when it comes to jobs and development.

  • “Our focus lately has been on the workforce area,” Weschke said. “We’ve revitalized our workforce development council, focusing on the industry sectors that we’re truly targeting.”
  • Weschke highlighted Towson’s redevelopment and the county’s focus on growing its “entrepreneurial ecosystem.” “We think that Towson could be the area for our entrepreneurial ecosystem,” she said. Weschke also highlighted development projects across the county, from Owings Mills to White Marsh and Sparrows Point. “There’s nothing like this [Sparrows Point] on the East Coast all the way to the Gulf Coast. It’s got everything.”

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