Job growth was stagnant in March in Montgomery County, but signs are still pointing up for a jurisdiction with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country -- 2.2 percent, down from 2.7 percent a year earlier, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released April 28.
Montgomery County is faring better than most jurisdictions in the Washington area, which has an average unemployment rate of 3.1 percent. Montgomery's unemployment rate is also far lower than the national rate of 5.6 percent.
New jobs are coming to Montgomery County, albeit at a slow pace. Between March 2003 and March 2004, Montgomery added 11,833 jobs.
Montgomery added more jobs than Prince George's County, which added 10,759 jobs, and Arlington County, which added 4,573 jobs. But Montgomery's job growth still lagged behind that of Fairfax County, which added 22,419 jobs during the same period.
Data on job growth by sector for March were not immediately available, said Linda Sherman, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Richard Clinch, director of research for the Maryland Research Partnership, a private-public Baltimore-based entity that analyzes economic trends, said numbers for the past year reveal growth in business and professional services as well as in leisure and hospitality occupations. But, he added, no one sector experienced major gains.
Clinch said Montgomery County's steady unemployment and job growth figures are "unique in Maryland."
"We never had the layoffs other jurisdictions had," he said. He credits the stability to an economy made up of government agencies, high-tech firms and defense contractors that is somewhat resistant to recession.
Clinch said the higher job growth in Fairfax is probably the result of Fairfax's continued success in attracting businesses as well as a slight rebound from the dot-com bust.
As for the rest of 2004, there are already some signs of positive job growth in Montgomery County. In recent months, several companies announced they are moving parts of their operations to Montgomery from the District and Northern Virginia. These include Union Labor Life, Fannie Mae and the Mills Corp.
Union Labor Life, an insurance company, completed a office building for its use at 1625 I St. NW in April 2003 but ended up selling the building six months later for $157.5 million to Brookfield Properties of New York. The company continued to rent space in the building, but the arrangement wasn't cost-effective, company spokesperson Harry Krause said.
"The building [on I Street] is one of the most expensive [to lease] in Washington, D.C.," said Krause. Union Labor Life's executive office and related operations will remain there, but about 200 employees will be moving to cheaper digs at 8403 Colesville Rd. in Silver Spring this summer.
The difference between what Union Labor Life is paying in the District and Silver Spring is "very substantial," said Krause, who added that the new location will also be more convenient for many employees. Montgomery County also threw in some tax incentives to make the move more attractive as well, Krause said.
Room to expand, not simply money, was the main concern of Mills Corp. officials when they decided to move their offices from 1300 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington to Chevy Chase. "In Chevy Chase, there is growth potential and access to public transportation, access to all airports and highways and a vibrant retail area," company spokeswoman Becky Sullivan said.
The company occupies about 100,000 square feet spread over five floors. At its new building, at 5425 Wisconsin Ave. in Chevy Chase, Mills employees will take up 200,000 square feet across seven floors. Mills is scheduled to move in the new site in 2006.