Donald Fry: New report ranks Baltimore among stronger regions to weather the recession

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By Donald C. Fry

The Baltimore region’s economy has demonstrated relative strength in weathering the recession when compared to others in the nation’s Top 100 metropolitan regions, according to a June MetroMonitor report from Brookings Institution. Overall, the Baltimore region ranks among 19 regions that were rated as the “second strongest” metropolitan areas to have weathered the Great Recession. (Click here to read the full report.)

The report measured economic outputs – the Gross Metropolitan Products (GMP) – of the Top 100 U.S. metropolitan regions during the recession. It also measured performance for other key economic indicators including employment levels, unemployment rates, housing prices, and the number of foreclosed properties that fail to sell at auction.

Among Mid-Atlantic regions, only one – the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region – was among 21 regions rated as the overall “strongest” to weather the recession. Three other metros from Mid-Atlantic States – Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Virginia Beach – also ranked with the Baltimore region in the “second strongest” group.

That’s the good news. Less uplifting are the report’s findings that, while most U.S. regions registered gains in economic output from pre-recession peaks to the end of 2009, these economic rebounds were not matched by employment rebounds.

For example, the Baltimore region registered a 4.8 percent increase in GMP from its previous peak in the 2nd quarter of 2008. However, employment in the Baltimore region remains at just 95.3 percent of its pre-recession level, and has yet to make a turn upward.

Greater Baltimore was among 32 regions that have recovered their pre-recession levels of economic output. But neither Baltimore nor any of the top 100 regions has fully recovered their previous employment levels. The lower employment statistics have been accompanied by tenaciously elevated unemployment rates, significantly reduced housing prices, and elevated levels of foreclosed properties that mortgage-holders have been unable to sell.

The Baltimore region ranks 4th among all regions for economic recovery since 2008, but it ranks 30th for employment growth during the same period. More disconcerting is that the Baltimore region’s 0.3 percent employment drop in the 1st quarter of 2010 ranks 60th among the 100 regions measured in the Brookings report.

Here’s how the Baltimore region performed on other key indicators measured by Brookings:

Unemployment rate. The region’s 8.0 percent unemployment rate ranks 21st best and is less than the 10.2 percent U.S. average. Its 4.4 percentage-point unemployment rate increase over the last three years ranks 29th. The region’s one-year unemployment rate increase of 0.8 percentage points ranks 36th.

Housing prices. The Baltimore region’s 20.4 percent decrease in housing prices during the last three years ranks 69th. The national average for that period was a 17.4 percent decrease, while the average decrease for all measured metro areas was 21.4 percent.

Real estate-owned properties. In March 2010, the Baltimore region had 3.97 per 1,000 foreclosed properties that failed to sell at auction. This ranks our region 68th, and was slightly more than the national average, but less than the average for all regions measured by Brookings.

The Brookings report also noted that 79 percent of regions measured lost a greater share of jobs at this point in the current recession than at the same point during any of the three most recent national recessions in 1981, 1990, and 2001. The Baltimore region, however, is not one of them. Compared to its pre-recession peak, Greater Baltimore’s 95.3 percent employment level is greater at this point than in all but the 1981 recession.

As is the case with almost any set of economic performance statistics, many positive and negative nuances and sub-trends can be derived from these Brookings findings.

But the employment data in this latest Brookings report points to one compelling reality that cannot be diluted by statistical subtleties and nuances. In Baltimore and Maryland, as well as everywhere else in the U.S., the strength of our economic recovery will ultimately be defined by an element, often cited in this recession-driven election year, that remains the basic foundation of any healthy economy: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”

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:

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.