Maryland’s local economies look to rally in 2022 after spending the better part of two years absorbing punishing body blows from COVID-19.
The virus continues disrupting commerce worldwide, but economic development experts from Cumberland to Salisbury said their strategies to buoy local economies remain in line with pre-pandemic scenarios.
Those blueprints revolve around attracting new businesses in high-growth sectors — especially tech firms — while retaining existing companies, specifically those with growth potential.
While the broad strokes of these regional schemes are strikingly similar, economic development leaders insist they’ve tailored tactics to capitalize on unique assets while simultaneously bolstering deficiencies.
The following 12 to 24 months may test the viability of these schemes as the global economy continues to navigate the first sustained downturn since the 2008 financial meltdown.
Despite national challenges, such as inflation and supply chain disruptions, Maryland businesses show signs of rebounding.
A significant factor in Maryland’s comparatively strong return stems from residents generally rejecting the vaccine hesitancy hindering economic revivals in other states.
Nearly 77% of Maryland residents received at least one dose of vaccine by late November, and more than 67% of residents were fully vaccinated.
As a result, unlike states coping with a surge in cases due to vaccine reluctance, there’s less concern about outbreaks causing employees to miss work for extended periods or businesses shuttering to contain COVID-19’s spread.
Concurrently, statewide unemployment rates declined from 9% in April 2020 to 5.7% this fall. Those levels, however, remain above the pre-pandemic low of 3.3% unemployment.
Maryland, in October, also gained 14,900 jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That means Maryland’s recovered more than 75% of the jobs lost since the pandemic arrived in the state in early 2020.
Rosy statistics, however, don’t mean local businesses aren’t still struggling.
Business leaders across the state said a nationwide labor shortage remains the top threat to economic recovery.
While there’s no estimate for the cost of the labor shortage at the state level, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta projects it costs U.S. businesses $60 billion a month.
The reasons behind workforce shortages are complex, and local business experts and advocates said they’re spending an increasing amount of energy looking for a remedy.
“There are lots of theories as to why people are not going back (to work). Some make better sound bites than others,” David Ryan, executive director of the Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development Corporation, said.
While COVID-19’s economic side effects continue to plague businesses, the disease itself presents the most significant test because the deadly illness rages unabated throughout large parts of the world.
Due to the global nature of the modern economy, a supplier in India shuttered by the disease or cargo stuck in a port in Vietnam creates empty shelves and delays for small businesses all over Maryland.
Additionally, new variants of the virus potentially undermine the efficacy of vaccines and hold the potential to send Maryland’s marketplaces back to the lows of spring 2020.
Despite the economy’s fragility, globally and locally, Maryland’s business leaders said they’re cautiously optimistic about what 2022 holds.
“I think if we look at … the economy compared to this time last year [there’s] certainly a brighter [outlook]. But there are still some clouds of uncertainty that we need to pay attention to,” said Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee.
|This article is featured in The Daily Record's Doing Business in Maryland 2022 that was inserted in the Thursday, December 30, 2021 issue of The Daily Record.