Looking for a job? Try Frederick.
Employment is growing faster there than in all but nine other large counties in the nation, according to a Department of Labor analysis released yesterday that looked at December figures. The number of jobs swelled by 3.8 percent in Frederick County compared with the same month the year before - a time when employment didn't budge a bit across the United States.
Chalk it up in part to the powerful influence of Washington, which has spread affluence to suburbs both near and far. Loudoun County, Va., is tied for first on the list of fast job creation; Prince William County, Va., is third. "This is really a product of the continued rapid commercial expansion of the Washington metropolitan area, which is now reaching as far west as Washington County in Maryland," said Anirban Basu, chief executive of Sage Policy Group, an economic and policy consulting firm in Baltimore.
"Frederick County, because of the availability of land and because of its cost of doing business, is receiving a fair share of that growth."
The downside to job hunting in the county is that you probably won't be paid as well. The average weekly wage at the end of last year was $724 - nearly 13 percent below the $830 earned by the average Maryland worker and 5.6 percent less than the national average of $767.
Frederick's major employers include the San Francisco engineering firm Bechtel Group Inc., Fort Detrick and two colleges but also Wal-Mart and Toys 'R' Us.
Despite the lower average wage, the typical county resident makes more than the typical Marylander. That's because nearly 45 percent of workers commute to other places, especially Montgomery County.
There were about 88,700 jobs in the county at the end of last year. Even if every one was filled by a resident, 20 percent of the labor force would be out of luck.
Local boosters want to bring in more jobs not only to help the economy - unemployment is low already, hovering below 3 percent - but to give people more options.
"Frederick County has experienced so much residential growth over the last 10, 15 years," said Joe Lebherz, president and chief executive of the local chamber. "We want to bolster the business side of it."
Basu thinks the abundance of highly skilled residents who work elsewhere is another reason businesses are bringing jobs to the area. They figure they'll have an easier time recruiting.
But as the county gets more jobs, it's also luring workers from Montgomery and other bigger employment hubs who like riding to work in the direction less traveled.
"They come to the office smiling - 'Hey, I don't have to sit in two hours of traffic,'" said Richard M. Tworek, chief executive of Qovia, a high-tech company that began in his Frederick County basement two years ago and now employs 55.
He kept the burgeoning startup in Frederick because it's convenient to a large labor pool, the rents are reasonable, the downtown is quaint and he's just 10 miles away from work. Qovia, which offers Internet telephony monitoring and management, expects to double its employment in the next 12 months.
"And these are all high-paid jobs," he said.
Sandy Dubay Sponaugle, business development specialist for the county's Office of Economic Development, hadn't heard about Frederick's top-10 standing in job creation and pronounced the news "wonderful."
"We have a lot of consistent growth more than anything else," she said. "We have been very fortunate to have a very diverse labor force, and therefore try not to be overly dependent on one particular sector or one particular business or industry, so that has helped."
Construction, retail, financial services and telecommunications are among the fastest-growing industries in the county, said Heather Pinckney, business resource specialist at the Frederick County Business and Employment Center.
While the rest of the state lost 4,500 telecom jobs last year, Frederick gained 400, she said - probably thanks to the influence of Fort Detrick, where the mission includes global telecommunications.
The reason construction is booming? So many people and businesses are moving in.
"Frederick's had some ups and downs as far as shifts in the market, but we're very resilient," Pinckney said.