@BryanRenbaum

Maryland’s business leaders said the state’s latest employment numbers are encouraging but warned that significant hurdles remain on the road to economic recovery.

Maryland added 68,300 jobs in June and that the state’s unemployment rate dropped from 9.9% to 8%, according to preliminary data released by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday morning. The state added 29,800 jobs in May. The national unemployment rate is at 11.1%.

“We are cautiously optimistic by this recently released data which seems to suggest that the economy is moving in the right direction. However, we are keeping a watchful eye on trends of rising COVID-19 cases in other parts of the country, including in some of our neighboring states,” Maryland Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Christine Ross told MarylandReporter.com in an email on Friday.

“While we are pleased that most of Maryland’s small businesses are operating in some capacity, they continue to struggle in overcoming several challenges, including rebuilding public trust and consumer confidence. We would not want the trends we are seeing around the country to occur in Maryland and thwart our recovery efforts.”

National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) state chair Mike O’Halloran said the jobs numbers appear to suggest that Maryland’s economy is beginning to improve.

“It would look like we are. And that’s great…but we lost 300,000-plus jobs in one month alone earlier this year. So, we’re still not back above water-which is OK. Because with this month we’re seeing signs that we’re getting there.”

O’Halloran said continued economic progress will depend on Marylanders adhering to safety guidelines aimed at limiting the spread of COVID.

“A great deal of this economic recovery will depend on the public abiding by CDC guidelines-just the way an overwhelming majority of small business owners are. They’re trying to keep the general public safe. They’re trying to keep their employees safe. So, we’re all in this together.”

Frederick County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon said businesses are doing the best they can to both survive the pandemic and comply with safety guidelines.

“My conversations with our members suggests that many of them are open and functioning at some level. With the impacts of staff positive tests in other regions of the state, we’ve also seen a recent increase in businesses enforcing previous rules for PPE and distancing.”

Weldon said many business owners are having trouble distinguishing between the various stages of the state’s recovery plan.

“There is an entire category of our membership that are still out there, shut down and awaiting some word from the state or local governments. Event planners, event venues, and all of the associated vendors for mid-sized to large scale events (pipe-and-drape rentals, caterers, DJs, transportation providers) are all still seeking clarification of the delta between Stage 2 and Stage 3.”

Gov. Larry Hogan touted the state’s jobs number in a statement on Friday and urged Marylanders to remain vigilant in the fight against COVID.

“Our economy is open, recovering, and doing better than many other states, but only the people of Maryland can keep our state open for business by continuing to follow public health guidance,” he said. “In Maryland, we were able to keep more than 70 percent of our economy open throughout this entire crisis without shutting down, and 98 percent of our economy is now open and able to operate in a safe way. We have already gained back nearly 97,000 jobs, and our unemployment rate has stayed much lower than the national rate, far better than most states in America, and is the very best among all the states in our region.”

There are 76,371 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Friday morning, according to the state’s Department of Health, and 3,227 people in Maryland have died from the virus.

Maryland has tested nearly 897,000 people for COVID. The state’s positivity rate is below 4.5%, which better than that of most states in the country.