Beacon’s Human Resources Director and Senior Recruiter Interviewed by The Baltimore Sun on the topic of Maryland’s Employment

May 20, 2011 10:17 am

Maryland gains nearly 12,000 jobs in April after string of dour months

Unemployment rate dips to 6.8 percent from March’s 6.9 percent

By Jamie Smith Hopkins and Lorraine Mirabella, The Baltimore Sun

7:37 PM EDT, May 20, 2011

Maryland employers added more jobs in April than they had in a year, but it’s too early to tell whether the state has pulled itself out of an unhappy economic tap dance.

The gain of 11,600 jobs last month — entirely from the private sector — comes after six months in which the state lost 6,300 jobs in total, according to estimates released Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor. The figures, drawn from a survey, are preliminary and could be revised later.

The April gain pushed unemployment down to 6.8 percent, from 6.9 percent in March.

Economist Charles W. McMillion, noting that Maryland’s job market “hit a wall” in the last few months of 2010, wants to see expansion in May and June before he’s ready to consider the state on the right track.

“Maryland has not grown nearly as well over the last six months as much of the rest of the country,” said McMillion, president and chief economist of MBG Information Services, an economic consulting firm in Washington.

Over the last year, in fact, the state’s job growth ranked it in the bottom 10, he said.

Economic challenges remain. This week, defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. said it was laying off 70 employees in the Baltimore area — and had accepted buyouts from more than 400 others — while the parent company of Superfresh said it would have to lay off nearly 1,500 people if it cannot find buyers for 22 Maryland grocery stores by early July.

But others are on a hiring spree. MedImmune Inc., the Gaithersburg-based biotech, has created hundreds of new Maryland-based jobs over the past few years and is on track to bring about 200 more people on staff this year, said Karen Lancaster, a spokeswoman.

“We have been hiring significantly over the last couple of years and still are, primarily to support the growth of our research and development activities,” Lancaster said. “We’re still on a fast pace to fill opportunities.”

MedImmune’s growth has been driven by an expanded focus on research in areas such as oncology, rheumatology and autoimmune disease. The new jobs have included scientists, clinicians, researchers, project managers, attorneys and regulatory staff, Lancaster said. The company has also increased its manufacturing capacity at a plant in Frederick and expects more hiring there, she said.

Most Maryland businesses surveyed during the first quarter by the University of Baltimore were feeling pretty good about their prospects in 2011, the university’s Jacob France Institute said this month. Two-thirds expected to increase revenue, the usual prerequisite to hiring.

Less than half of businesses — 43 percent — thought they would add employment this year, but just 7 percent expected to cut, the survey showed.

The only major drag on Maryland job growth in April was the government, which cut 4,800 jobs. Most of that came in state agencies, according to the Labor Department estimates.

The private sector added 16,400 jobs, with all major industries expanding except information, which showed no change in employment last month. That sector includes publishing and telecommunications businesses.

The biggest gainer was one of Maryland’s mainstay sectors, professional and business services, a catch-all group that includes groups as diverse as architects and consultants. Those employers added 5,500 jobs in April, the Labor Department estimated. Leisure and hospitality businesses added 3,500 jobs, the next-biggest gain.

The figures are adjusted to try to account for normal seasonal variations in hiring and layoffs. Maryland Labor Secretary Alexander M. Sanchez said Friday that he’s noticing a larger-than-typical pickup in hiring by businesses

— such as golf courses and amusement parks — that employ more people in the warmer months.

“One of the reasons I think we saw dramatic growth this month is … I really see folks that are more confident in the economy at this point and are able to do the hiring they need to in preparation for the summer,” Sanchez said.

Despite a string of difficult months recently, the state’s unemployment rate has remained well below the nation’s, which was 9 percent in April.

About 203,000 Marylanders were out of work and actively looking for a job last month, down 3,000 from March, the Labor Department said. That’s back to the level of unemployment in early 2009 but is still almost twice as many out-of-work residents as at the end of 2007, when the recession hit.

Efforts to cut back on federal contracting to help deal with the spiraling budget deficit have created waves in the state, where lots of employers do business with Uncle Sam. Northrop Grumman said a slowdown in defense spending prompted its layoffs. But some government contractors are hiring.

Bel Air-based Beacon Associates Inc., a fast-growing management consulting company that works as a federal contractor, has hired about 30 people in the past six months to meet demand. Now that Congress has finally passed a budget for the year, “agencies are secure in having funding, so the floodgates have opened,” said Deborah Keith, senior recruiter at Beacon Associates.

“We’ve been pretty lucky,” said Andrea Pullen, the company’s director of human resources. “We were thinking there was going to be this lull. But we haven’t experienced that.”

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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