Taking regional tack on jobs

Area counties team up, address expected growth

Base closings mean influx

Officials expect thousands of new high-tech workers

July 31, 2005|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Harford County, facing one of the greatest influxes of high-technology jobs in the state's history, is teaming up with surrounding jurisdictions to accommodate the predicted economic development boon.

Decisions are not final, but Aberdeen Proving Ground stands to lure an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 technology jobs to the area by the middle of the next decade.

About 5,000 of those jobs result from the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission's decision to close New Jersey's Fort Monmouth and shift its civilian operations to APG.

Even more jobs, perhaps as many as 8,000 to 10,000, are expected from a Rockville developer's plan to build a 300-acre business and technology park at APG.

The developer, Opus East LLC, has laid out plans for a facility that would provide federal agencies, government contractors and private companies the security of being behind the guarded gates of a military base.

Tom Sadowski, director of the Harford County Office of Economic Development, said he has joined his counterparts in Baltimore and Cecil counties to work on a plan to accommodate such a large infusion of jobs and workers.

"Harford County is doing the right thing by taking a regional approach," said Vernon Thompson, Cecil County's economic development director. "The impact of these projects would be overwhelming if Harford tried to go it alone."

Thompson is a former assistant secretary for regional development in the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

In that job, he was involved in improvements to schools, roads, housing and public services to accommodate about 12,000 new jobs in and around Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Southern Maryland the mid-1990s.

The jobs were a result of decisions by the base closure committee.

Thompson said the new military-related jobs expected to come to the region are expected to lure even more companies that he called "second-tier contractors."

Such companies will follow the functions being moved from Fort Monmouth to APG.

"They will locate throughout Cecil, Harford and Baltimore counties," Thompson said.

David S. Iannucci, head of economic development for Baltimore County, said he expects several thousand of the contractor jobs associated with APG to come to his jurisdiction.

He said the county is working on an inventory of industrial park land and housing needed to accommodate the businesses and their workers.

"Harford County is becoming a major story in the high-tech industry, and there is no end in sight," said Anirban Basu, chief executive of Sage Policy Group, an economic and policy consulting firm in Baltimore.

Basu said technology companies attract other technology companies.

"They have a habit of clustering," he said.

"Where are all of these people going to live?" he asked rhetorically. "My guess is that many of them will go to Cecil County. That's where the land is. They have the land to support this expansion."

Basu said Harford County is emerging as "a main economic development engine of the Baltimore metropolitan area. That was not true 10 years ago. It was a sleepy little bedroom community of Baltimore."

Aris Melissaratos, the state economic development secretary, said projects as big as the APG expansion require a regional approach.

The state is coordinating the plans for transportation, housing needs and health needs, Melissaratos said.

It is also looking into education and school capacity to determine whether adjustments are needed.

"There is no question about it," Melissaratos said, "this is huge for Maryland. But we have the track record to show we can handle it. We did it at Pax River. We can do it at APG."

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