County Comment/Encouraging Report on Economy

by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer


“We are very busy and open for business,” Washington County Board of County Commissioners’ President Greg Snook said, following an encouraging report on the economic status of the County, Maryland and the U.S. as a whole, delivered at the regular meeting of the Board on Tuesday, November 18th.

Economic Development Commission (EDC) Director Tim Troxell brought this report to the Commissioners as a periodic update on unemployment figures, leading economic indicators, and how the County is fairing in bringing in new business and industry.

In September Washington County’s Unemployment rate was 3.7%, compared to Maryland’s 4.1% for the same period. Unemployment for the same time one year ago was the same, at 3.7%. Overall, the yearly average for Washington County was 4.6% compared to the State average of 4.4%. The figures are better than Berkeley County, West Virginia, at 4.0% for the September measurement, and slightly higher than Franklin County, Pennsylvania, which was at 3.3%. The unemployment figure for the United States was 6.1% for September 2003, Troxell said.

The Second Quarter Gross Domestic Product grew at an annual rate of 3.3% in 2003. In the first quarter, the GDP increased 1.4%. The major contributors to the increase in GDP in the second quarter were personal consumption expenditures, federal defense spending, and nonresidential fixed investment. The Third Quarter 2003 Gross Domestic Product advance estimates report 7.2% for the third quarter, the best showing since 1984. The major contributor to the increase in GDP in the third quarter was consumer spending.

Economic activity in the manufacturing sector grew in October for the fourth consecutive month, while the overall economy grew for the 24th consecutive month, according to the Institute for Supply Management. The index of business activity increased from 51.8% in July to 57.0% in October. A reading above 50% indicates that the manufacturing economy is generally expanding. Of the 20 industries in the manufacturing sector, 14 industries reported growth including leather; instruments and photographic equipment; food; glass; stone and aggregate.

The U.S. Commerce Department reported in early November that construction spending is up. From September 2002 to September 2003, construction spending increased 6.5% due to gains in residential housing, lodging, religious structures, power, and sewage and waste disposal projects.

The Maryland index of Leading Indicators provides an economic outlook for the coming six to nine months. The latest report for the month of August increased to 103.2 from 102.3 in the previous month. The leading index was also up by 2.4% from a year ago. All three of the national components yielded a positive impact, which includes the leading index, consumer confidence index and the spread between short-term and long-term interest rates.

Business is up locally, Troxell reported. So far this year, the EDC has handled 175 new client inquiries and 147 client follow-ups. EDC has received 21 new prospects in the last 30 days and expect the trend to continue and grow.

Troxell told the Board that the business activity in Washington County has done very well in 2003 especially in comparison to the U.S. economy. The EDC has already announced over $170 million in project investments, and nearly 800 new jobs this year. Troxell said the fact that the labor force has expanded in the County while unemployment rates have fallen is an indicator of the County’s healthy economy.