St. Mary's prepares for invasion from Pa. Technical talent moving to Pax River

October 25, 1991|By David Conn

St. Mary's County will soon face a problem seldom seen in this state's enduring recession: the boom-town syndrome.

On Jan. 1, 1992, St. Mary's in Southern Maryland will begin to receive what will be the county's largest influx of scientific and technical talent since the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River opened almost 50 years ago.

The migration will come from Warminster, Pa., where the Navy next year is closing its Naval Air Development Center and shifting most of its functions to Pax River, as it is commonly called in St. Mary's County.

It's still unclear how many of the people who work in and around Warminster will end up at Pax River, but at least 2,000 will join the county's 33,000-member labor market by the end of the decade.

Already, Navy and county officials are studying the possible effects the new personnel and their families will have on the county's education, transportation and infrastructure needs. One estimate envisions up to 3,000 new students by 1995.

The full force of Warminster's closure won't be felt for about four years, enough time to see how many of the 1,872 military contractor employees who work there will decide to move. They'll certainly have an incentive to go where the dollars are, county officials said, and every element of St. Mary's government is trying to figure out the level of resources that will be needed.

"Naturally we're very excited, especially with the economic times we're going through," said Elliott Burch Jr., a St. Mary's businessman and chairman of the county's economic development commission. "The Patuxent Naval Air Test Center is sort of the hub of our economy here.

"Along with all of that good news comes some questions -- you might say problems -- what with education, the roads, housing," he added.

"But we see it as a real big plus."

Currently, more than a third of the county's workers derive their jobs from Pax River, including military, civilian and contractual employees. Largely because of Pax River, St. Mary's has the third-highest average weekly wage per worker in the state, behind Howard and Montgomery counties, according to the economic development commission.

And the Navy said that the people who likely will come from Warminster, just north of Philadelphia, earn even more -- $4,500 more than the average Pax River employee.

The shift, part of the Defense Department's overall base consolidation effort, will take Warminster's research and development activities and combine them with Pax River's testing and evaluation functions. Pax River also is the sight of a test pilot training school.

The consolidation will bring construction dollars to St. Mary's. Starting next year, with a new $10.7 million materials lab, the Pax River complex will host at least $115 million in renovation work and new construction through September 1995. The Navy expects to build almost half a million square feet of new office and laboratory space.

Much of the new construction at Pax River depends on the fate of the Naval Electronics Systems Engineering Activity Center near St. Inigoes, about 15 miles southwest of Pax River.

NESEA was spared the base-closing ax at the last minute this year, but if there are cutbacks in the next round of reductions in two years, some of the new Pax River jobs will shift to NESEA, and few new buildings will go up at Pax River.

Pat River work force

Workers at Pax River (the Naval Air Test Center) now and afte its consolidation with the Naval Air Development Center, Warminster, Pa.

1991. . . . . Civilian ... Military. . . . .Contractors

Pax River. . . 2,800. ... 1,420. . . . .. .2,365

Warminster. . .2,567.. ....237. . . . . . . 1,872

1995

Pax River. . .4,O00. . . .1,362. . .. . . .*3,000

* Figure may go higher

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