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Carroll County economy on upswing, expert says

Anirban Basu
Anirban Basu(Submitted photo / HANDOUT)

Carroll County's economy is poised to have a good year thanks to new companies moving into the county and a low unemployment rate, according to a prominent economist in the region.

Anirban Basu, CEO of Baltimore-based economic and policy consulting firm Sage Policy Group Inc. and chairman of the Maryland Economic Development Commission, annually presents his take on the Carroll's economic position and potential to county residents and officials.

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On Tuesday, he told a gathering of more than 150 local stakeholders at The Portico at St. John Catholic Church in Westminster that the county's economy is continuing to recover from the 2008-2009 recession.

He offered insight into the local economy by looking at the economic outlook of the state and of the nation.

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While things in the U.S. are steadily improving, much of the rest of the world is not hearing the same good news, Basu said.

"The world [economy] is simply not growing enough," he said.

The U.S. economy is expected to experience modest growth in the coming year, he said, along with those of other advanced countries like Spain and Canada.

Perhaps most notable, though, is what is happening in emerging markets, he said.

China's growth has slowed to its worst level in years, Basu said, and Brazil's economy is shrinking at the same time the country is battling an inflation problem.

"The global economy will remain quite weak," he said. "Now we can take some … solace in the fact that the U.S. economy continues to perform."

Though that performance is not exceptional, he said, the nation's economy is stronger than many might think.

In the last quarter of 2015, the country's gross domestic product rose by 1.4 percent on an annualized basis, he said. But unstable growth has made consumers unconfident in the recovery, he said, and the biggest contributor to sustained economic growth is the consumer.

Additionally, struggles in the global economy have had an impact on the U.S. economy, he said. A strong dollar means it might be more difficult for other counties to afford American exports, he said.

But while some areas are struggling, sectors such as health care are growing, Basu said.

Maryland added a total of 49,391 jobs between February 2015 and February 2016, according to the Local Area Unemployment Statistics. That gain, he noted, came in a year when Baltimore struggled with the effects of increased crime and unrest after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died in police custody. This resiliency, he said, is a testament to the strength of the region's economy.

The state's unemployment rate, he added, is 4.7 percent, ranking it 25th in the country. The Baltimore metropolitan area — which includes Carroll County — ranks 11th in unemployment rates out of the country's 20 largest metropolitan areas, with a rate of 5.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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"I don't think one could argue that Maryland is booming, but we're holding our own," Basu said. "Maryland is in better shape than it was."

Housing sales, he said, are one area that has not increased to pre-recession numbers. But, he predicted, that could change within the next 10 years as those currently in their 20s and 30s begin to start families.

If officials commit to making a clear effort to make their town attractive to young people, he said, Westminster has the potential to be a magnet for young, educated people, a group that has proven to be more mobile than other segments of the population.

Carroll County, Basu told the group, has benefited from new businesses moving into the area, something that needs to be supported by a skilled labor force, he said.

Jack Lyburn, director of the county's Department of Economic Development, agreed.

The county, he said, has added 1 million square feet of manufacturing business. That's no coincidence, he said.

"Our labor force is superior to our surrounding counties and our surrounding states," Lyburn said.

While the future beyond the coming fiscal year is more murky, with looming threats related to things such as cybersecurity and the possibility of the Federal Reserve raising interest rates, the immediate outlook for the county is good, Basu said.

"When people do well, counties should do well," he said.

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