Carroll economy 'on the move,' economist says

Carroll County is steadily recovering from the recession, as evidenced by recent unemployment rates and real estate data, economist Anirban Basu said Wednesday.

"This county is now on the move," Basu said at an Economic Outlook breakfast presented by Carroll County Economic Development and sponsored by BB&T Bank.

Basu, chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group, an economic and policy consulting firm in Baltimore, served as the keynote speaker for the event, which was attended by elected officials and area business leaders.

Basu said Carroll's 5.4 percent unemployment rate in April is "quite good" and the March rate of 6.1 percent was the lowest rate in the state for counties not heavily oriented with jobs from the federal government.

While unemployment rates don't measure jobs in the county, Basu said residents are benefiting from their proximity to the Baltimore and Washington markets.

"The county is coming back, there's no question about it," he said.

Basu said rising housing sales and home prices are also aiding the county's recovery.

Despite rising home prices, Basu said it is still a good time to be a buyer because home values are 20 to 25 percent below pre-recession figures.

Median home sale prices are rising about 10 percent a year, he said.

"That's not a bad return on investment," Basu said.

Board of Carroll County Commissioners President Doug Howard said he was "very pleased" with Basu's comments regarding the county's economic position.

Howard said it shows that Carroll is in the "right place at the right time" for people to live and bring their business into in the county.

"It's a story we need to get out and tell more," he said.

Jack Lyburn, a Carroll County Economic Development administrator, said the economic development office has been in contact with more than 200 entrepreneurs who are considering coming to the county.

While Carroll has the potential to be home to more mid-size manufacturing companies, similar to Knorr Brake Corporation in Westminster, Basu said it could be challenging to attract these companies because Maryland is not a right-to-work state and the state-mandated stormwater fee is looming.

The stormwater fee, more commonly known as the rain tax, was signed into law last year and requires counties, including to Carroll, to collect fees based on the amount of impervious surface on the property. The fees are to pay for stormwater management as well as stream and wetland restoration projects. Impervious surfaces include paved driveways and rooftops.

Industrial companies typically have a lot of impervious surface and could find it difficult to compete with the tax, Basu said.

Carroll County commissioners have yet to decide a fee structure, but Basu said the rest of the state is watching to see how it plays out.

"That will be a very interesting decision," he said.

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