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Youngest Md. population is in St. Mary’s

Friday, Sept. 21, 2007


St. Mary’s County has the youngest population in Maryland, according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The median age is 34.4 years — the state average is 37.3 years.

The census numbers also show:

* Just one out of every four people in St. Mary’s County has a four-year college degree.

* The county is third in the state in the percentage of people living in trailers.

* Most people who live in St. Mary’s work in St. Mary’s.

The number of people with a college degree is troubling to Bob Schaller, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic and Community Development. But overall, he said Wednesday at his Leonardtown office, the new census numbers are encouraging and make the county an easy sell to new business.

He showed an aerial photo of Great Mills Road predating 1976. The road is flanked by vast expanses of forest except at two spots. One is the Great Mills High School complex and across the street from it is Suburban trailer park, which is still there today.

The census reports that 5.2 percent of people in St. Mary’s live in mobile homes. Only Wicomico and Cecil counties had higher percentages. The state average is 1.7 percent. The St. Mary’s number can only shrink, though. No new trailer parks are permitted, except through an expensive application process for planned-unit developments.

When Patuxent River Naval Air Station was constructed in 1942, there was an acute housing shortage and thousands of trailers were shipped in. Trailers housed base workers, but that is not the case now. Today, trailers represent low-income housing for those in the service industry. There are 20 trailer parks left in St. Mary’s.

The state average for those with a four-year college degree is 35 percent and in St. Mary’s the number is 24.4 percent.

‘‘This is not a new problem,” Schaller said.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland is the only four-year institution in the county and its curriculum does not feed directly into the local defense economy.

‘‘It took tooth and nail to get a computer science program there,” Schaller said.

‘‘You see people well off — then you see trailer parks. We’ve got a bigger wedge” than most communities, he said.

St. Mary’s is often sold as a high-tech community. There are 22,000 jobs at Pax River, and 42 percent of the civilian workforce has a bachelor’s degree. Twenty-one percent have a master’s degree.

But the overall county statistics paint a different picture. ‘‘It is a concern and it continues to be a concern,” Schaller said.

The oldest median age in Maryland was found in Allegany County at 40. But the Census American Community Survey didn’t sample every county in Maryland, only those with populations of 65,000 or more.

In Allegany, ‘‘Their economy really dried up and the older people stayed and the younger people did not,” said Hans Welch, business development manager with the department of economic and community development.

Youth brings vitality. In St. Mary’s, ‘‘you see it reflected on [Route 235]. You see it on soccer fields. That’s a great thing for us,” Schaller said. ‘‘You see it in the storefronts. Who goes to Starbucks?”

Looking at any soccer field on Saturday, he said, shows that people want to raise their families in St. Mary’s, Welch said.

However, the Navy and defense contractors have been recruiting workers from across the nation because the pool of technical workers is not here in St. Mary’s. ‘‘They have a hard time recruiting young engineers,” Schaller said, and there is a need for homegrown technical talent here.

About 20 percent of the base’s workforce commutes from Calvert County.

In Calvert, 58.7 percent of its people work outside of the county.

In St. Mary’s only 24.9 percent of the people work outside of the county.

And a short commute adds to the quality of life, Welch said. A long daily commute ‘‘just grinds you down over time,” he said.

St. Mary’s is just far enough away from the metropolitan areas of the state to prevent it from becoming a bedroom community, Schaller said.

‘‘If you live here for five years, you become so ingrained, you don’t want to leave,” Welch said.

E-mail Jason Babcock at jbabcock@somdnews.com.

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