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As Long as We Remember...

November 13, 2003

With A Rosy Picture, Don’t Throw Caution To The Wind!

Alan Imhoff

Recently at Hood College there was a half day symposium on the economic future for the region, county and the City of Frederick. The event was well attended and brought to light a number of opportunities, as well as concerns for the financial well being of our area.

A noted economics professor from a Maryland university was the keynote speaker and entertained the crowd with a wonderful interpretation of a slide show presentation, which captured even the attention of everyone no matter how little they knew about economics.

Facts and figures from the past were shown to be useful indicators of future performance, assuming conditions remained relatively unchanged. The indicators are useful in demonstrating that, besides location, location, location, Frederick County and the City of Frederick are poised to benefit from its unique diversity of businesses.

So, yet again we are being given the “rosy scenario.”

For many who have been dealing in these matters for the past decade or so, much of the information supplied was “old hat.” Nothing really new here.

For others who are not quite as familiar with the economic fabric of the area, they were revelations of how fortunate we are in living in one of the most dynamic regions of the county. Opportunities abound.

Finally, for those who could stay long enough, a series of questions were asked where, by using a special voting system, the results were known immediately. While most answers followed the conventional wisdom, there were several audible gasps when the results were contrary to the expected answer.

So, if things point to a “rosy” economic picture, where confirmation was given on most of the current conventional wisdom of how well we are doing, were there any cautions issued that should give us some concern?

By and large there was very little “counterpoint” to the main point of “rosy scenario.” While there were some indications expressed while explaining the assumptions used to predict the future, very few caution flags were raised.

Case in point: during the explanation of the decadal shift in “out-flow” and “in-flow” of workers in the county, it was noted that the county has made “progress” in moderating “out-flow” of county residents to jobs outside the county. The inference being that higher wage jobs now exist in the county that allow for residents to work here rather than go down the road.

However a caution flag needs to be raised with that analysis. During the same time frame, the price of an average house has risen dramatically. In turn, that has influenced some portion of our existing population to leave our area and seek affordable housing elsewhere, yet retaining their “higher wage” job in the county.

So, someone who once lived and worked here now is a statistic known as “in-flow” because they could only afford housing outside of the county. An unintentional by-product of this occurrence is the additional mileage by this person on our already overtaxed road system.

There are other cautionary flags that need to be raised. The biggest one is the extent of the known depletion of building lots for new houses. If this trend continues, how many executives can the county absorb in these $400,000 plus homes, while those who man the front lines of any business are forced to live out-of-county.

Also, at what point do those businesses decide that with the majority of their workers now living out of county, do they need to move to be closer to their supply of cheaper labor?

Another cautionary flag is the extent of the “shell game” being played by moving a business from one area to another without any backfill plan in place. An example is the move of Wolf’s Furniture from East Street in the City of Frederick to the old Hechinger’s site on the Golden Mile.

Will East Street continue to experience this type of flight over the next year or two? Remember where the Golden Mile was when Penny’s left, Montgomery Wards and Hechinger’s went bankrupt? Etc. Etc.

So while things may appear to be “rosy,” there are various shades of rose, some brighter than others.

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