WORKER SURPLUS Recession solves hiring problems in corridor

It once was difficult for employers to find entry-level workers in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. The recession has solved that problem.

Giant Food Inc. had 800 jobs to fill at this time last year, mostly entry-level positions, such as cashiers, baggers and bakery clerks. "We couldn't keep up with the turnover," said Winston doCarmo, vice president of personnel at Landover-based Giant.


"There was tremendous recruiting pressure from all sectors of the economy," he said. "It made it very easy for those entry-level workers to move to other employers."

Now Giant has a backlog of applications, and fewer than 30 of the 10,000 jobs in the 150-store chain are open.


Consumer caution and a slowdown in spending has forced some companies not only to cut back on hiring, but to lay off workers.

The Historic Inns of Annapolis not only have more people interested in entry-level jobs, but at a lower wage than a year ago, said Gerard Boismain, general manager of the four inns in downtown Annapolis.

The Anne Arundel Trade Council is planning to go ahead with its job fair, started three years ago to help employers find entry-level workers, but organizers expect fewer employers and more job-seekers to show, said Jeanette Wessel, council executive vice president.

The shortage of entry-level workers has been chronic in Montgomery and Howard counties, which have the lowest unemployment rates in the state.

"It turned quickly from the most acute problem facing the business community to one that is really not a factor at this point," said Ben King, former president of the Bethesda/Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, and owner of Gaylord's Lamps & Shades in Chevy Chase.

The unemployment rate, while still low in those two counties, is up substantially from the previous year, according to the Maryland Office of Labor Market Analysis and Information. The preliminary December unemployment rate in Howard County was 4 percent, more than double the rate of 1.7 percent in December 1989. Montgomery County's jobless rate was 3.3 percent in December, up from 1.9 percent the year earlier. The December jobless rate in Anne Arundel was 4.9 percent; a year earlier it was 2.2 percent.

Professional ranks as well as unskilled have been touched by the recession, and the effect has trickled down.

"You get better qualified people now, or overqualified people who are glad to have the job," said Robert Eastham, owner of Eastham's Exxon in Chevy Chase. He recently hired two people -- a bank cashier and a bank loan officer -- to work from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.


"I usually get people for that shift who have dropped out of school," he said.

The Howard County Chamber of Commerce was even trying to set up a bus service to bring in workers from Baltimore last year, but the plans were soon scrapped. "The recession started heading in and we pulled back," said Steve Wood of the chamber.

Louisa Shepard is a Washington free-lance writer.