"We've seen some good things in the economy, but some negatives as well," Jim Richardson, executive director of the Harford County Office of Economic Development, said as he addressed about 25 representatives of Mason-Dixon Business Association at their recent meeting.
Richardson said the county's economy has evolved from being agriculture- and canning-based in 1917, when Aberdeen Proving Ground was established, to being technology-oriented in recent years.
He gave the business owners and representatives at the Feb. 19 meeting information about Harford's position for success with new and expanding companies based in the county, including Clorox, MedStar, Pier 1, Kohl's, Saks 5th Avenue and Sephora. Of the newer companies coming to the county, he said H.P. White in Street is the only defense contractor on his list.
"If you have negative population growth, you have negative economy," Richardson said.
In his population statistics, Richardson showed a growth of county residents from 145,930 in 1980 to 244,826 in 2010, with 267,350 projected for 2020.
While employment has increased in the county in the past five years, so have average median weekly wages, with the private sector increasing from $804 in 2008 to $899 in 2013, a hike of 11.8 percent, and government sector increasing from 1,190 to 1,612, a 35.5 percent raise.
Richardson said his office is not sure what impact "Obamacare" and a raise in the minimum wage will have upon the county. He said the bottom line is that most people in Harford County look for a minimum wage of $16.50.
He showed charts ranking Harford with other Maryland counties, which illustrated its economic growth rate as better than Baltimore County, but not as high as Howard County's, which Richardson called the richest county in the nation.
Richardson said APG is the third largest employer in Maryland, with its workers increased from 12,000 to 22,000 through BRAC. Actual contractor employment growth is down from projections, but should be realized by 2017, with still more projects to come from New Jersey, he said.
Harford has replaced jobs lost in the recession and is growing, Richardson said, adding that of 136,000 workers, 80,000 live in the county. The Loft will be coming to Harford soon, and he said he expects Black & White, Chico's and other stores to follow.
He spoke of new high-tech infrastructure projects, which are the Public Health Command Lab replacement at $100 million to $250 million, Downer Hall renovations at $10 million to $25 million and construction at APG of the Operation & Maintenance Facility Supporting Aerostats at $10 million to $25 million.
Richardson said his office is watching federal contracts closely to ensure the county gets its fair share.
Land, labor and capital are needed to build economy, Richardson said, and he told of entrepreneurial pursuits encouraged by his office.
He said Harford is well-poised to handle modern "additive manufacturing," which reduces energy use and material costs, and he spoke of Netflix's "House of Cards," which was the sixth television project filmed in the county. That award-winning show had immense economic impact, ranging from employment and purchasing of goods to hotel rentals.
Richardson said Harford County has fewer businesses than other counties in the state, but more employment.
Using "House of Cards" actor Kevin Spacey's line, Richardson's presentation concluded with "That's how you devour a whale... one bite at a time."
He explained that seeing a small business increase its number of jobs is an example of that economic growth.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun