Sandwiched between Frederick and Baltimore counties, Carroll County is a domain of farms, forests and townships. But as it attracts high-profile companies and work opportunities, it is experiencing a boom in its population.
Carroll's population grew by 11.7 percent between April 1, 2000, and July 1, 2005, more than double the 5.7 percent growth the state of Maryland saw in the same period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Not only has the county's population increased at a quick clip, but its residents have also purchased houses in large numbers, bucking the trend toward renting that dogs some of the surrounding counties' economies.
"What my gut would tell me is Carroll County is really based in family values, and you see a lot of young families moving out here, where it might be easier to purchase a home than if we look toward our neighbors in Howard County and Montgomery County," said Paige Sunderland, business development manager for the Carroll County Department of Economic Development. "You can afford to buy a home here, while you may need to rent a home as you get closer to D.C."
The amount of jobs available in the county has also gone through substantial growth in recent years. Census data show that Carroll County's number of private nonfarm jobs increased by 11.2 percent between 2000 and 2004, while the statewide number increased by only 4.5 percent in the same period.
Furthermore, the county's major employers, many of which are national firms, offer jobs that are in high demand. Some of the county's larger, more high-profile employers include Northrop Grumman Corp., General Dynamics Robotic Systems and Random House Inc., according to the Carroll County Department of Economic Development's Web site.
"When residential population grows, the service component grows -- things from retail to accountants, lawyers and doctors -- these service firms are coming to serve the population here," Sunderland said. "A lot of people that come out here already have established careers, though. At this point, we really don't have some of the more professional office and technology positions that we see a lot of our population commuting out of the county for. While we've grown in jobs, there would be justifiable argument that some of the service-type jobs aren't helping us keep the population here."
This trend toward service jobs could have a negative effect on the economic future of Carroll County if further work is not done by county planners and leaders in the next decade or two, Sunderland said. However, she pointed to actions that the county is pursuing in anticipation of this potential problem.
"We are very aggressive in seeking economic development opportunities," she said. "In order to keep up with the population growth that we see heading our way, we believe we could see as many as 40,000 new jobs in the next 20 to 25 years."
Many of Carroll County's biggest employers have nothing but positive things to say about the county and its residents.
"One of the main reasons we built our new high-tech manufacturing facility in Westminster was because of the outstanding work force," Ed Mottern of General Dynamics Robotic Systems told the Department of Economic Development.
While the development and opportunity are great from an economic standpoint, there is a downside to the changes they bring. The new development has begun to change the character of Carroll County from mainly rural to a patchwork of rural areas and suburbs with a few booming towns.
There has been strain on the farming community as land values have gone up, as well as on the infrastructure. Residents of Carroll County have been vocal about some of these effects of development, Sunderland said, though the county is working very hard to maintain its rural, agrarian nature.
"Part of our Carroll County character is agriculture; it's always been there; we're proud of it," Sunderland said, "and we will continue to try to reap the benefits of this heritage."
If Carroll County can continue to do that, the country characteristics of the county will be here for years to come.