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Area jobless rate lowest in 10 years

January 04, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Washington County's unemployment rate dropped for the third straight month to an estimated 4 percent, the lowest it has been in 10 years, according to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The county's unemployment rate fell slightly from October, when it was 4.1 percent. The local jobless rate in November 1995 was 6.1 percent.

The last time the jobless rate was that low was May 1990 when it was 4.1 percent.

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he thinks the unemployment rate hasn't been as low as 4 percent in the last 20 years.

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Labor department officials couldn't confirm that on Friday. According to past labor department reports, the jobless rate hasn't been as low as 4 percent in at least 10 years.

State labor department spokeswoman Karen Napolitano cautioned against direct comparisons because the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics changed the way data was collected in January 1994.

Still, the low rate is good news for Washington County and the state, Napolitano said. Retail employers began hiring temporary sales workers in November for the holiday shopping season, helping to lower the state's unemployment rate, she said.

Snook attributed the rates to a combination of low interest rates and businesses locating here.

"I think the unemployment rate is going to continue to go down," Snook said.

Some companies are opening or expanding businesses locally and haven't even started the bulk of their hiring yet, Snook said.

A $43 million Staples distribution center off Hopewell Road that will employ 700 workers by the end of 1998 should start receiving freight in early February.

First Data Corp. west of Hagerstown expects its local work force to reach 1,800 this year.

Both those companies have incentives from the state of Maryland, either in the form of tax credits or training credits, to hire locally in Maryland, Snook said.

Maryland Ribbon Co., which manufactures ribbon and other fabric-based products, is planning an expansion that will create 150 more jobs.

Lowe's has been adding jobs as it prepares to open a store this month across Wesel Boulevard from the current store, Mayor Steven T. Sager said.

While the county jobless rate has been better than Maryland's and the nation's jobless rates in recent months, it used to be that the county's unemployment rate was higher than the nation's, Sager said.

The local economic development activity has helped bring down the county's jobless rate, he said.

Frederick County's unemployment rate also dropped slightly from 2.9 percent in October to an estimated 2.7 percent in November.

November was the seventh straight month of rising employment in Maryland, according to the labor department.

While Maryland's jobless rate dropped from 4.6 percent in October to 4.4 percent in November, the nation's unemployment rate rose slightly from 4.9 percent to 5 percent in November.

"The continuous drop in both the unemployment and seasonally-adjusted unemployment rates are encouraging signs of Maryland's growing economic strength," said Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening in a prepared statement.

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