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County's jobless rate reaches all-time low

November 04, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Backed by a powerful economy, Washington County's unemployment rate dropped to a record low in September, according to state figures released Thursday.

The county's jobless rate fell from 3.1 percent in August to 2.7 percent in September, according to the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

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Labor officials attributed the drop to a seasonal adjustment in the work force and an economy that continues to churn out new jobs.

Shanon S. Wolf, job services director for the Hagerstown office of the department, said changes in the way the unemployment rate is calculated make direct comparisons with past decades impossible. But, she said, "It's still the lowest we have seen."

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"Overall, the employment situation in Washington County has been strong. We've had good hiring across the board," according to Wolf.

Washington County has ridden the wave of a robust national economy that has touched nearly every segment of the country.

The unemployment rate dropped in every region of Maryland in September and the statewide average of 3.3 percent matched the all-time low.

The statewide drop from 3.6 percent in August put Maryland's jobless rate well below the national average of 4.1 percent.

Unemployment typically drops between August and September as some workers return to school.

Even with that caveat, local officials described an economy that is humming. The county's jobless rate in September 1998 was nearly a full percentage point higher, at 3.6 percent.

A number of companies have announced plans to relocate in Washington County over the past several months and existing companies have expanded operations.

"I think we're seeing the statistics catching up to the announcements," said Thomas B. Riford, marketing director for the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

Jim Hughes, the assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said Washington County has made progress in recent years.

Earlier this decade, local unemployment was close to double digits.

Hughes attributed the reduction to a variety of factors, including more aggressive marketing on the part of county economic development officials.

"I don't think there's any part of Maryland that has done better than Washington County," he said.

But a low unemployment rate could make it more difficult to attract new companies.

"It can be a double-edged sword," Riford said.

Riford said his office has received increasingly frequent requests from companies looking for help finding workers. He said companies have become more creative in recruiting workers and some have raised wages.

"Competition is great for the citizens of Washington County," he said.

The report showed that unemployment declined everywhere in Maryland but Worcester and Somerset counties. It attributed the increase in Worcester County from 3 percent in August to 3.4 percent in September to the loss of summer jobs at Ocean City.

Howard and Montgomery counties had the lowest jobless rate at 1.8 percent, followed by Frederick County with 2 percent and Carroll, Charles and Talbot counties at 2.1 percent.

Baltimore's rate of 7 percent remained the highest in the state.

Overall, more than 2.7 million Marylanders held jobs in September.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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