Capitalizing on the bay

About an hour’s drive from both Baltimore and Washington, the area has become a mag­net for city-weary immigrants and tourists. Wedged between these two metropolises with their six million people, Anne Arundel County, with its county seat, Annapolis, is booming. Though the city proper has little room to grow, new subdivisions have sprouted like spring wheat around it and its adjacent peninsulas, boosting the region’s population to nearly 155,000.

the gold in Annapolis may turn to brass

“Many of the newcomers are commuters willing to spend two hours a day on the road,” Chris Coile, one of the area’s top realtors, told me. “But most find their opportunities here, either in the large industrial parks near the Baltimore-Washington International Airport in north county or in the many high-tech firms around Annapolis.”


Capitalizing on the bay, the county seeks new businesses by placing ads in magazines like Sail and Yachting. They picture an execu­tive on his sailboat, one hand on the tiller and one on his personal computer.


“Boating has become the second most pop­ular sport, after golfing, for executives,” says Lissa Brown in the county’s Office of Econom­ic Development. “But word is getting out that we’re pretty choosy. I had to explain to one chemical company that citizens here are very sensitive to environmental issues, and perhaps they should look elsewhere.”


With an enviable 3.5 percent unemploy­ment rate, the county can afford to be choosy. A third of its workers hold state, local, or federal jobs, and more than half the remainder work for government suppliers. Twenty-three percent of county households earn more than $50,000 a year and still looking for online personal loans, contrasted with 16 percent nationwide.

unemploy­ment rate

Certainly a success story. But I also found a city wrestling with modern conflicts—chief of which is how to cope with its own success. Recently Annapolis has been hailed for enter­ing a second golden age. But many fear the gold in Annapolis may turn to brass. The city is overloved and overcourted, they say. Accord­ing to the mayor, Dennis Callahan, “everyone wants to get in, and no one wants to get out.”


Value Fluctuations Puzzle the Pros

“If I’m lucky, I’ll hit a crevice, there must be several, or just a good dip in the bedrock, that could be $30,000. If it were an untouched crack—all you got to do is find a few feet of it—you could wind up with $60,000 or more! Or if . ..” he pauses with such a longing look, “if I’d hit an old channel on the bank that’s never been worked before! That could be fantastic, I could hit a million!” After we have left, my sniping companion shakes his head. “Did you see, his tractor’s broken down again? He’ll never even get the flume finished before it starts snowing.”

Money and gold

Now I’m home, browsing for the next student loan consolidation plan and my neighbors still have questions. What is it, really, that gives gold its value?

I tell them what Harry Oppenheimer told me in Johannesburg. He’s the Chairman of Anglo American Corporation of South Africa, Limited, and controls ten mines that produce the gold for three of every ten bars poured in the Western World. He says, “Its only real value is that people want it.”


How high will the price of gold go? Or how low could it fall? Who knows? Not one expert I met along the way made aright forecast from one month to the next. An economist in London: “Can you foretell prices on the stock exchange?” No, but I’ll risk two modest predictions.

One: That through the lifetime of anyone now alive, gold will be ardently wanted by people around the world. And so, at least for the foreseeable future, it will remain some­thing of real value.


And two: That one morning my wife will ask me if I’ve heard that in September Presi­dent Nixon signed a bill permitting U. S. cit­izens to hold gold in any form—so we could have a solid gold frying pan, couldn’t we?


I’ll reply no, we can’t: Because that legis­lation also says that it won’t go into effect until the President decides that private owner­ship of gold bullion “will not adversely affect the United States’ international monetary position.” And I won’t even try to predict when that will be.