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Health care, professional services drive job growth

Jeffery F. Werling, Ph.D., Executive Director of Inforum

Through the recession and recovery, Maryland’s economy has been bolstered by other industries as manufacturing has waned, a trend that still gives many economic watchers cause for optimism.

Health care continued to expand during the recession, adding 7,900 jobs in 2010 alone, enough to make it account for more than 13 percent of the state’s jobs.

Escalating health care costs, high labor demand and implementation of the federal health care overhaul will likely mean many more rosy years for that sector, economists said.

“Until there really is some kind of expenditure containment, it will just continue on its merry way,” said Jeffrey Werling, executive director of Inforum, a University of Maryland economic research group.

The sector that includes law firms, consultants, laboratories, computer programmers and biotech research has posted consistent gains as well, adding 8,700 jobs last year.

That is “going to continue to be strong for the foreseeable future,” said R. Andrew Bauer, a regional economist for the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

Much of that will be due to consultants following military and intelligence units into the state, he said.

‘Faster than China’

Last year, computer systems design firms added 5,400 jobs, good for 8.9 percent growth.

“That’s faster than China,” said Christian Johansson, secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development. He attributes much of that growth to budding cyber security firms.

Both the professional services sector and health care have added more than 22,000 jobs since the recession began. And the leisure and hospitality industry is nearing pre-recession levels.

Hotels and restaurants boosted payrolls by 8,100 in 2010, spurred by the opening of new hotels and renewed consumer confidence that filled restaurants with diners after years of eating in. Arts and recreation added another 3,000 jobs.

“It’s a volatile group,” said Al Goyburu, an economist with the Department of Business and Economic Development. “It was nice to see gains on that in 2010, but at the same time, it’s not something you want to hang your hat on.”

Retail appeared to arrest its fall late in 2010, rebounding slightly in the final quarter. Construction, too, saw modest gains.

‘A lot of tension’

But financial services firms, many of which are dealing with new regulations and real estate agents saw slack employment continue through 2010.

“They lost their jobs, and a lot of them won’t get them back,” said Werling.

Jeff Weidley, a former sales representative for a company that makes hydraulic lifts for trucks, said he has considered financial services jobs since being laid off in August.

The 56-year-old said he has a master’s degree in business administration from the Johns Hopkins University. He worked in finance with Paine Webber for three years, and later managed a bond portfolio for a bank.

But Weidley has focused largely on the trucking industry, where he spent most of his career, looking for a job that will be around for another decade, when he can retire.

“There’s a lot of tension,” he said. “I’m not a young guy anymore. I’m 56. I’m looking for job I can retire from.”