If you have the misfortune of being unemployed or are planning to prospect for a new job, Howard County looks like the hot place to pound the pavement in the Baltimore region.
The reason: The county is projected to have the most rapid job growth in the Baltimore region in the next two years, says a labor study. It has the area's lowest unemployment rate -- averaging about 3.9 percent -- for the first five months of this year.
Howard County's unemployment rate is the second lowest in the state. In Montgomery County, the unemployment rate has averaged about 3.3 percent from January through May.
Unemployment in the Baltimore region has averaged about 7.2 percent for the period, state figures show. The region is made up of Baltimore City, and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Queen Anne's counties.
"Howard County's employment picture is really strong," said Mary Jo Yeisley, an administrator and labor specialist with the state Department of Economic and Employment Development.
The Baltimore Metropolitan Council, a private nonprofit agency which studies regional population, economic and other trends, projects that Howard County's job growth will expand the most -- 13.8 percent -- in the Baltimore region between 1990 and 1995.
The council projects 14,400 jobs will be created in the county in that period. Many of the new jobs will be found in the retail and service industries, the council says in a report last year, Regional Employment Trends and Prospects.
Columbia, the unincorporated city of 79,000 residents, should experience the largest gain in new jobs, about 5,500 by 1995, up 38 percent from 1990, the report says.
The job outlook for Howard County is expected to show gains this summer if local employers follow through on lifting the lid on hiring, as they report they will do.
Manpower Inc., an international temporary-help company which surveys key employers quarterly in its U.S. markets, says Howard County should be one of the brightest job markets in the entire country between July 1 and Sept. 30.
The quarterly survey found that 47 percent of the managers responding to the survey in the county planned to increase hiring during the summer months. Job opportunities should occur in construction, durable goods manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, the finance, insurance and real estate industries and education. Manpower surveys, on average, 32 major employers in each area where the poll is conducted.
William Howard, the county's economic development director, says he expects many county employers to increase hiring this year. During a recent tour of 100 employers in the county to mark a business-appreciation week, many managers told him they planned to add staff.
"There was significant interest in hiring and expansion among the businesses I talked to," Mr. Howard said.
The county's employment picture should be bolstered by jobs created by companies moving into the county, Mr. Howard said. "We are getting a steady stream of companies inquiring about relocating here or expanding here," he said.
For example, an athletic-wear manufacturer recently has expressed serious interest in opening a plant in the county, Mr. Howard said. And Coca-Cola will employ 750 people at its syrup manufacturing and distribution plant, scheduled to open in fall 1994.
Unemployment among the county's residents has been low, said Ms. Yeisley, because of a convergence of factors:
* A highly educated work force adding an edge for job prospecting. Forty-two percent of Howard residents have bachelor's or higher degrees.
* A strong base of service industry jobs, which employ residents in a range of jobs, from the very low skilled to advanced. The service sector includes employment in the legal, health, hotel and education industries. About one-third of all the jobs in the county are in the service sector, but job growth in that area is expected to balloon rapidly between now and 1995, say labor experts.
* One-third of the county's residents commute to jobs in the Washington area, many of which are federal government jobs, generally considered stable career posts.
* Construction trades have not been as hard hit here as elsewhere in the state. Between the second quarter (April, May, June) of 1991 and the same period of 1992, the county saw a
gain of 350 construction-related jobs, state labor statistics show. The reason, say homebuilders: the pace of residential construction in the county has remained fairly stable this year thanks to buyer interest sparked by low-interest rates.
"One of the big surprises [in Howard County] was construction. Statewide, construction employment was horrendously hit, but in Howard there was a gain. It was not huge growth, but still a surprise," Ms. Yeisley said.
The upbeat outlook isn't just reflected in the dull statistics of bureaucrats.
Consider the story of Martek Biosciences Corp., a biotechnology firm with headquarters in Columbia. The company's discoveries include a unique food, or growth medium that will permit researchers to draw detailed blueprints for some large human proteins. Martek also makes products from microalgae.
The company's staff, has grown to 60, from the 34 employees on staff in 1991. About 75 percent of the staff are Howard County residents.
When a job opens up at the firm, Henry "Pete" Linsert Jr., the company's chief executive officer, doesn't worry whether he'll be able to find someone qualified. The county -- whose residents are among the most highly educated in the state -- is chock-full of people with the science degrees and technical training in demand at Martek. Also, the quality of life in the county makes it easy for Martek to lure job candidates here, Mr. Linsert said.
"We don't have any trouble finding people to hire with the technical and science backgrounds we need. Howard County is a great place for us to be. I'd can't imagine being anywhere else," he said.