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Pace Picks Up Slightly as County Adds Jobs

Gains Primarily In Private Sector

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page GZ17

Montgomery County added more jobs between April 2003 and April 2004 than it did in each of the two previous years, according to data released last week by the county.

The number of jobs in Montgomery grew by 4,019, or 0.9 percent, between the second quarter of 2003 and 2004. The gains came mostly in the private sector, primarily in jobs that pay $49,999 or less, county officials said. The data they relied on appear in "Economic Forces That Shape Montgomery County," a biannual analysis of state and federal data prepared by RESI, a research consultancy based at Towson University.

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The jobs increase is not spectacular, but "it is good in the sense of job creation," said John Hopkins, acting associate director of applied economics and human services at RESI, who helped compile the report. "When you're coming out of a recession, you're going to take jobs where you can get them."

As of December 2004, Montgomery's unemployment rate was 2.9 percent, said Karl Moritz, acting chief of the Research and Technology Center at the county's Department of Park and Planning. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a national unemployment rate of 5.2 percent on April 1.

In Montgomery, the health services industry added the most people to its payroll -- 2,000 -- between the second quarter of 2003 and 2004. That brings the number of health services jobs in the county to 39,800.

The number of technology jobs held steady in the second quarter, reversing two years of declines. During the previous one-year period, the high-tech sector shrank by 9.2 percent after a 6.9 percent decline the year before. The state and the nation continue to lose technology jobs, the RESI report noted.

Within the technology sector, the star was the county's burgeoning biotech industry. Biotech jobs grew by 5 percent, despite a slowdown in the growth of research and development spending by the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies. As of the second quarter of 2004, about 8,500 people held biotech jobs.

The number of aerospace jobs remained about the same, and the number of high-tech manufacturing jobs shrank by 1.4 percent to 8,200.

The number of retail jobs decreased, too. In the second quarter of 2004, Montgomery lost 900 retail jobs compared with the second quarter of 2003, bringing the number to 47,500.

As of the second quarter of 2004, the county had a total of 450,888 jobs.

Park and planning officials also delved into how much the county's new jobs pay and found that jobs were added at all income levels. The number of jobs that paid a salary of $30,000 or less grew by 1.1 percent. Those paying between $30,000 and $49,999 and those paying $50,000 or more increased by 0.8 percent each.

The highest-paying vocations included chemical manufacturing, which paid an average of $106,500; broadcasting, $103,200; and securities and commodities trading, $97,300.

While showing signs of an economic rebound, Montgomery is not gaining jobs at the pace of Fairfax County, which added 25,000 more jobs than it lost in 2004, according to the February 2005 Fairfax County Economic Index, prepared by the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

One big difference between the counties is the growth of government jobs. Virginia has been adding public-sector jobs, and Montgomery has been losing them, RESI's Hopkins said.

According to the report, public-sector jobs in Montgomery decreased by about 850, or 1.1 percent. About 550 of those jobs were with the federal government. That came a year after a gain of 947 public-sector jobs.

Traditionally, though, the Montgomery economy has expanded at a more plodding pace than Fairfax's, Hopkins said. "As an economy, we're more stable. During the tech boom, you didn't see the high-flying jobs numbers. After the crash, you didn't see the big declines, either. For planners and developers, it's less volatile and more predictable."

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