County workers' pay hikes don't measure up

February 21, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

County workers' pay hikes don't measure up

Washington County wages didn't rise as fast as the rest of Maryland or the nation in 1996.

The 2.9 percent county increase lagged behind statewide and national increases of 3.9 percent.

The increase for the Hagerstown statistical area, which includes all of Washington County, was the lowest of five metropolitan statistical areas in Maryland. Cumberland, Md., had the next lowest pay increase at 3.5 percent.

Maureen Greene, a regional economist for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, said the statistics include about 97 percent of all workers. The statistics exclude some classes of workers, including farm and church employees.

The statistics cover jobs in Washington County, not county residents, Greene said. The salary of someone commuting to Hagerstown from outside the county would be included, but someone who commutes out of the county wouldn't be included.


John C. Howard, the executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, said that average income is the No. 1 measuring stick that the EDC will use to define success.

Fred Teeter, the executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said he expects 1997 statistics to show higher wage growth because of a falling unemployment rate, expansion at Citicorp and First Data, and a flurry of new businesses like Staples.

"We're all for wage growth," Teeter said.

According to statistics provided by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, seven counties saw percentage increases less than Washington County. Fifteen counties and Baltimore city had higher increases.

State figures also show the county has lagged behind the state in wage increases since 1990.

The average weekly wage was $469 in 1996, up 17.8 percent from $398 in 1990. The state average weekly wage was $582 in 1996, up 22.3 percent from $476 in 1990.

EDC Coordinator Beverly Baccala said comparing the county to the rest of Maryland doesn't always make sense because large metropolitan counties such as Montgomery County can skew the state statistics.

She also said she expects higher wage increases to be reported for 1997 because of the number of projects that were announced in 1996 and built in 1997.

"That's going to change everything," she said.

Teeter said construction of the Downsville Pike/Interstate 70 interchange could spur development of high-paying white-collar jobs at Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park.

Economic development in Hopewell Valley at the Halfway Boulevard/Interstate 81 interchange could mean higher wages in the future, Teeter said.

Suzanne Hayes, the vice president of the EDC, said the county needs to prepare its work force for higher-level jobs.

She said the county has a tremendous capacity to provide customized training for companies, and said that capacity has to be better marketed and exploited.

"There are people who would argue any new job is a good job. I want the higher-end jobs," she said.

Hayes said the county won't be able to just sprout a business that would bring 2,000 college graduates to the county. She said it would have to be a gradual process that could start by employing county residents who now commute to Frederick and Washington, D.C., at local businesses.

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