Donald Fry: For economic indicators, the 'whipsaw' effect continues

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By Donald C. Fry

Economists, statisticians, and academics across the country spend their careers measuring economic health from all angles. The result of that work, conducted both inside and out of government, is a continuous stream of updates on various elements of the economies in our nation, regions, states and cities.

This number crunching goes on all of the time. But these days, we seem to be paying closer attention to it. In Baltimore and Maryland, as in all of America, leaders in the public and private sectors are seeking signs that the eagerly-awaited economic upturn, which seems to have been “just around the corner” for months now, has begun in earnest.

We anxiously await the time when we move out of what has been a “good-news-bad-news” whipsaw, when it comes to economic indicators and business confidence surveys, and burst strongly into a prolonged period of mostly good news confirming that the robust economy that we all enjoyed as recently as three years ago is back.

Based on the spate of recent indicators and reports, it looks like we’re all going to have to wait a little longer.

For instance, a June Brookings Institution report on the nation’s Top 100 metropolitan areas ranked the Baltimore region 4th among all regions for its rate of increase in economic output since 2008, as measured by gross metropolitan product.

The same report, however, offered the disconcerting observation that the Baltimore region’s employment decreased in the 1st quarter of 2010, ranking it 60th for employment growth.

Meanwhile, 2009 income data released this week by the U.S. Department of Commerce showed that the Baltimore region’s 0.2 percent increase in per capita income put the region among only five large metro areas in the U.S. to experience an increase in personal income last year. The Washington, D.C. region was among the top three.

Such hopeful signs, however, are countered by the U. S. Department of Labor’s June 2010 statistics showing that employment decreased during the past year in all six jurisdictions in the Baltimore region and in all five Maryland counties in the D.C. region.

You see what I mean about the “good-news-bad-news” whipsaw.

So much for the empirical data, how do Maryland business owners and managers feel about their own prospects? Fifty-eight percent of senior business executives surveyed between April and June for the University of Baltimore’s Jacob France Institute expect their business markets to expand in 2011, while only 12 percent expect a market contraction.

However, when asked for their opinion of Maryland’s business climate, only 31 percent of statewide respondents had a positive view of the state’s business climate.

There goes that whipsaw again.

It looks like policy-makers still have plenty of work to do. Maryland fares comparatively well in relation to other states on many economic measurements. And, fortunately, our state faces a number of significant growth opportunities, including the influx of more that 15,000 BRAC-related jobs within a year, a nationally-acknowledged potential for bioscience industry growth, and fledgling signs that Baltimore City may be poised for a population and economic rebound.

Policy makers in Annapolis, Baltimore, and in county seats around the state must do two things:

First, and foremost, do no harm to our still tentative economy that seems poised to grow but needs to gain traction.

Second, ensure that any new policy measures are enacted with the need to nurture economic growth in mind.

We’re way beyond the “it’s the economy, stupid” stage. At this point, for Baltimore and Maryland, “it’s the economy, period.”

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Previous Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

Do census data foretell a Baltimore city population rebound?

Remember the value of business after the election

New report ranks Baltimore among stronger regions to weather the recession

New living wage proposal: wrong idea, wrong time for Baltimore

Northeast needs more attention from federal rail planners

New national report has familiar ring for Maryland bioscience advocates

New report underscores Maryland’s work force development challenges

State’s health initiative: a ‘win-win’ for employers and their workforces

As Baltimore hikes taxes, are state’s counties next?

After the ‘fiber from heaven’ scramble, what’s next?

BRAC growth no longer a future event – it’s happening now

Economic development is a contact sport

Despite the recession, bioscience growth still percolates in Baltimore

State stumbles in enacting new education collective bargaining process

Wind power has potential in Maryland, but solar emerges as early renewable option

It's not good to be clueless in cyberspace

Amid fiscal shuffle, Maryland lawmakers pass measures to spur business growth

Thankfully, Baltimore leads with substance over style in luring Google

Leave damaging transportation provisions out of the budget

Amended budget continues recession-induced fund shifts and stimulus rescue

General Assembly setting stage for combined reporting push in 2011

Wrong timing for proposal to change Baltimore City school board

Baltimore City isn’t alone in facing pension funding challenges

A government investment program that delivers

Proposed transportation fund raid -- a bad habit continues

Where's the outrage over crime?

Small business is where innovation lives
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Donald C. Fry has been the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the central Maryland region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders, since November 2002.


Under Don’s leadership, the GBC is recognized as a knowledgeable and highly credible business voice in the Baltimore region, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. on policy issues and competitive challenges facing Maryland. Its mission is to apply private-sector leadership to strengthening the business climate and quality of life in the region and state.


Fry served as GBC executive vice president from 1999 to 2002. From 1980 to 1999 Fry was engaged in a private law practice in Harford County. During this time he also served in the Maryland General Assembly. He is one of only a handful of legislators to have served on each of the major budget committees of the General Assembly.


Serving in the Senate of Maryland from 1997 to 1998, Fry was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. As a member of the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1997 Fry served on the Ways and Means Committee and on the Appropriations Committee.


Fry is a 1979 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He earned a B.S. in political science from Frostburg State College.