“For the first time in a long time, St. Mary’s County should strongly consider its economic future.” Those were the marching orders from noted Maryland economist Aniriban Basu at a public briefing Tuesday at the Frank Knox Center in Lexington Park. The briefing was sponsored by the newly reconstituted St. Mary’s County Economic Development Commission.

Basu’s strong suggestion is already being acted upon, as the St. Mary’s County Commissioners have launched a determined economic development initiative which has included two recently released studies and the beginning of an ongoing effort at diversification along with preserving the county’s main economic engine – the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. A strategic plan is next on the agenda.

As he usually does, Basu mixed dry economic data with quick wit to make it interesting and understandable. He started with national trends which he says show a surging stock market at the same time that the economy has lagged behind historical growth and being held back by the national debt.

He said the stock market reflects brisk corporate profits. “Some people have done particularly well,” he said and then added the flip side – “Who hasn’t done particularly well? The people of America!”

He said all states are in recovery mode but only a handful, mostly in energy rich regions, have fully recovered.

As components of the economy, he noted that personal consumption is up but government spending is down.

As for the state, he said, “Maryland has become a laggard economically in the last 12 months.” The state’s jobs growth was only .8 percent versus the national average of 1.9 percent. Maryland, he said, is losing government, information and manufacturing jobs.

That all puts Maryland at 43 of the 50 states in job growth, yet the 44th state ironically is the state held out as competition to Maryland in business friendliness – Virginia.

The three Southern Maryland counties are doing well in job growth: Calvert ranked 5th, St.  Mary’s 8th and Charles 9th. Somerset County on the Eastern Shore (which is trying to get a wind turbine project) is dead last. Basu then said, “Take away Pax River and St. Mary’s County looks like this,” shining his pointer on Somerset County’s statistics.

Basu noted that eighty-percent of St. Mary’s County’s economy is dependent on the base. Basu predicted a flat job growth future for the county over the next few years, which led him to suggest a concerted economic development effort. The growth trends are due to the uncertainty in the federal budget

Basu noted that some states, such as Vermont, do well because they are so pretty that people want to live there. That is one avenue for the county to pursue in its diversification, he said, a point that also was underscored by Acting Director of Economic Development Robin Finnacom in her remarks.

Before Basu’s presentation, the briefing attendees got an over view of the recently released SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats) analysis prepared for the county by a consultant for the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance. The alliance’s BRAC Committee Chairman Rear Adm. Pete Williams (U.S. Navy Ret.) gave the briefing.

Williams’ briefing as similar to one recently given to the county commissioners. See the Bay Net story on that presentation: http://www.thebaynet.com/news/index.cfm/fa/viewstory/story_ID/38247

Williams noted that another round of BRAC considerations will likely look at each base’s capacity. “Pax River is a bit over capacity,” he said.