Boom times in Southern Maryland Naval air buildup: Growth at Patuxent station could create 13,000 high-tech jobs.

July 08, 1996

AT A TIME when Maryland is beating the bushes for economic development, there's already explosive growth in rural Southern Maryland, where a buildup of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station is transforming the area.

In March, the Navy began testing the next-generation fighter plane to replace its aging and troubled F-14 Tomcat. The $100 million program has drawn 400 high-paid engineers and scientists to the base, not to mention hordes of military personnel to participate in the flight tests of the F/A-18F Super Hornet.

There's more to come. In the last round of military base closings, the Patuxent River air facility came out a big winner. Consolidations from other bases will bring 5,000 high-tech jobs and create work for 8,000 in the private sector.

The economic potential is enormous. Southern Maryland could become home to the next wave of high-tech aviation industries.

Southern Maryland already is a popular refuge for those fleeing creeping urbanization of suburbs near Washington. In the last five years, Calvert County's population jumped 26 percent -- the fastest rate in Maryland. Charles County, up 14 percent, will add 12,000 residents, or 10 percent of its population, just from the mammoth Chapman's Landing project. Now St. Mary's County has its own boom.

With growth, though, come headaches. Some 4,000 new children are expected to crowd local schools within five years; roads leading to the naval air station will be severely strained.

Officials in Annapolis responded with $17 million for school construction and $100 million earmarked for various highway projects.

But if local officials expect state backing, they have to support projects in other regions, too. That never happened this past General Assembly session. St. Mary's commissioners also refused to pay infrastructure expenses themselves, preferring instead to lower the property tax rate -- and then ask the state for money.

There's no question Southern Maryland deserves state assistance. Yet it has to be a cooperative arrangement, not a one-way street. This golden opportunity should not be squandered.

Pub date: 7/08/96

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