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Editorial: Job creation is job one

Earlier this month, state and local economic development officials got an earful on Maryland’s lagging performance in job creation from economist Anirban Basu at their annual convention.

The chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group Inc. called the state’s job numbers over the 12-month period ending in April — a net gain of 1,300 jobs for 44th place among the 50 states — “extremely disappointing.”

Then came the numbers for May, released last Friday. They were even worse.

Overall, the state lost 13,000 jobs in May, according to seasonally adjusted figures from the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The private sector led the job losses with a decrease of 15,300, a decline only partially offset by government hiring and residents finding work in other states.

One of those states is right next door.

“More and more people are driving across the Potomac to Virginia because they’re adding more jobs than we are,” observed Richard Clinch, director of economic development at the University of Baltimore’s Jacob France Institute.

DLLR Secretary Alexander M. Sanchez looked at the brighter side of the bleak numbers, noting that 1,400 federal government jobs were created in May, which he attributed largely to the growing influx of jobs related to the military Base Realignment and Closure process.

But there is another side to the BRAC numbers.

As helpful as those 1,400 new jobs are, they are a pittance alongside the 15,000 jobs lost in the private sector that same month. And the specter of deep federal spending cuts in defense threatens Maryland’s economic future.

There are no easy answers. The sagging economy is a national problem. Businesses are reluctant to hire until consumers are ready to spend. Consumers are reluctant to spend with unemployment high and the housing market mostly under water.

Yet Maryland must do a better job of encouraging job growth in the private sector.

Our education system needs to be more nimble, responding to opportunities such as the need for a higher-education facility in Harford County to serve BRAC-related employees who need advanced degrees.

We need more workers with “middle skills” who can work as police officers, firefighters, carpenters and technicians. We must improve our transportation system with critical upgrades for moving people and goods.

And we must improve Maryland’s business climate so we can compete better with other states.

Late last year the Greater Baltimore Committee produced eight recommendations for doing just that. Gleaned from months of talks with public and private sector leaders, the recommendations included a simplified and predictable regulatory system, a more competitive tax structure, superior transportation infrastructure and a better business marketing strategy.

That, it seems to us, is as good a place to start as any. Let’s get moving.