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Montgomery lawmaker laments county's sluggish job growth

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

A Montgomery County lawmaker blasted the county's sluggish job growth Tuesday, pointing to data that show the county added less than half of the jobs Fairfax County did in the last year.

The lagging employment numbers are "problematic," Montgomery County Councilman Hans Riemer, D-at large, said at a meeting with county business leaders.

Between August 2011 and August 2012, Montgomery County added 4,482 jobs, while Fairfax County added 11,388, according to data the Bureau of Labor Statistics released last week.

Suburban Maryland as a whole -- which includes Montgomery, Prince George's, Frederick, Charles and Calvert counties -- added 6,600 jobs, while Northern Virginia -- which stretches from Alexandria to Spotsylvania County -- added 32,600 jobs.

Northern Virginia generates about 80 percent of the region's jobs, according to Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

Riemer warned his fellow lawmakers that the county's tax base may be eroding. "With that huge regional imbalance in job growth ... we're traveling further to job centers, so our residents who have choices will move closer to jobs elsewhere. The ones who have choices have higher incomes."

Steve Silverman, director of Montgomery County's Department of Economic Development, pointed instead to data from Economic Modeling Specialists International, the latest of which are from June. But that still showed Montgomery County with 657,197 jobs, compared with 833,121 in Fairfax City and Fairfax County and 849,271 in D.C.

He attributed the difference in job growth to a range of factors including the presence of the Department of Defense in Northern Virginia and Virginia's tax policies.

"They have no local income tax, so their goal is to get as much commercial development as they can get," Silverman said. "No elected official over there wants to keep raising property taxes on individuals."

By comparison, Maryland raised income taxes statewide this year on residents earning at least $100,000 annually. Montgomery County increased its property taxes this year, as well.

But Riemer insisted that taxes have nothing to do with it, pointing instead to better transit opportunities in Virginia -- including the Silver Line, which is currently under construction -- as well as the location of Washington Dulles International Airport and, like Silverman said, defense spending.

Montgomery County should turn to transportation projects like the Purple Line light rail, a rapid bus network or redevelopment along Route 355 as ways to attract business, Riemer said.

"I don't want to dither and dither about projects that we can't get done," he said. "I want to focus on something that we can get done."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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