After dodging the bullet in this year's round of military base cutbacks, Aberdeen Proving Ground is in the running to gain a personnel center that would bring 250 well-paying civilian jobs and be the post's biggest employment gain in nearly seven years.
The post, the engine of Harford's economy, is a top contender to house one of seven regional Army personnel centers being established in the continental United States.
Seven other Army installations -- four in N.J., two in Pennsylvania and one in Massachusetts -- also are competing to house the center. Workers at the center would manage recruitment, training and other personnel functions now performed by people at offices at nearly every Army installation.
If the center comes to Aberdeen, "It will be a prestigious tenant," said Gary Holloway, an Aberdeen spokesman. Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said Harford should take advantage of every opportunity to gain military jobs.
An Army team visited Aberdeen Friday to inspect the building that would house the center -- the Ryan building, where the headquarters of the Army's Test and Evaluation Command also is situated. Mrs. Rehrmann met with the team to pitch Harford's labor force, schools and amenities.
Maryland's congressional delegation -- mainly Democratic Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes and 2nd District Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican -- has been lobbying quietly for the personnel center.
"The post has put forth a terrific proposal, and I believe that it should win on merit," Ms. Mikulski said.
Sara E. Lister, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, is expected to select a site for the personnel center by Oct. 1. Officials said the Army wants to begin operation of the center in March.
The 250 jobs would produce an annual payroll of about $10 million, Army officials said. Many of the jobs would pay $40,000 to $50,000 a year, they said.
The last job gain of equal magnitude at Aberdeen was when the Army announced in late 1988 that it would move about 300 research positions to the post from Watertown, Mass.
Since 1988, Aberdeen has lost about 1,600 military and civilian jobs through a series of cutbacks in the nearly 60 Army agencies there. Still the work force, excluding the nearly 3,000 contractors working there, stands at about 12,400.
Maryland is expected to lose 1,800 jobs at six military installations as part of the plan set forth this year by the independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The plan still must be accepted by Congress.
The state installations planned for closure are Fort Ritchie, in Western Maryland; the Naval Surface Warfare centers at Annapolis and White Oak; the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda; the Army Publications Distribution Center in Middle River; and a defense investigative office at Fort Holabird.
Bringing the personnel center to Aberdeen would be a bit of good news to offset the bad, said Joe Swisher, who chairs a private group called Citizen Advocates for Aberdeen Proving Ground. Still, with so many cutbacks elsewhere, he said, "there will be stiff competition."
"If we can muster enough support for this, it would take some of the sting out of the losses in Maryland in the BRAC process," said Mr. Swisher, a retired Aberdeen manager.
Several months ago, the citizen group worked to fend off an Army proposal to move Aberdeen's Test and Evaluation Command headquarters, one of the post's major tenant organizations, to Fort Bliss, Texas. The Army still is studying the proposal.