In Md., officials plan for new workers

Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard likely to gain thousands of defense jobs

August 25, 2005|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

With the influx of thousands of defense jobs to the state a near-certainty, officials in Maryland now turn to the task of preparing for the new workers and offering help with relocation.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted yesterday to recommend closing Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, resulting in a gain of more than 2,000 jobs at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and consolidating other facilities at Fort Meade, bringing more than 5,300 jobs to Anne Arundel County.

In Harford, officials have been working with Fort Monmouth employees and businesses around the base on the logistics of moving, said Wyett Colclasure, head of the Aberdeen Army Alliance. Colclasure said a "war room" has been established at APG to bolster efforts to persuade Fort Monmouth's civilian workers - some of whom have vowed not to move - to make the 140-mile trip south.

The alliance, a nonprofit business group that advocates for Aberdeen Proving Ground, already had commissioned a consultant to study the county's transportation needs over the next 20 years to plan for the arrival of new residents.

And Harford's economic development office, which usually competes with surrounding jurisdictions for new business, has teamed with counterparts in neighboring Cecil and Baltimore counties to plan for the expected wave of workers and companies.

"The vote to move Fort Monmouth operations here is a big piece of the puzzle that sets up APG as the super lab that we have envisioned in past years," said J. Thomas Sadowski, Harford County's economic development director.

Similar preparations are under way in Anne Arundel and Howard counties in anticipation of new workers at Fort Meade.

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens said preparations in Anne Arundel include thousands of housing units along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and recently appropriated funding to widen Route 175, both of which border Fort Meade.

"We're in very good shape," she said. "The kinds of jobs that are coming are just wonderful. They're the jobs of the future - technology and information systems. We've been building our business parks to house these defense contractors as fast as we can."

Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said the race is on to recruit prime defense contractors and subcontractors.

"We want them to relocate to office buildings in Howard County," he said.

Story said the county has an active program in place that links contractors already located in Howard to prospective subcontractors. The Economic Development Authority is developing a broad plan to take effect in October that will more completely address the county's BRAC response, he said.

Though enthusiastic about the commission's action, Maryland officials said they can't exhale fully yet. The recommendations must be approved by President Bush, then pass through a 45-day period during which Congress could reject it.

"We anticipated today's vote, but you can never be sure," said Harford County Executive David R. Craig.

In the case of Fort Monmouth, the commission inserted a condition that the base's closing could be delayed if the U.S. war on terror appeared to be hindered by interruption of the facility's operations, which include weapons research.

Political leaders in New Jersey vowed to continue their campaign to keep Fort Monmouth open.

"The fight to save the fort is not over," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a New Jersey Democrat. "I have long believed that closing Fort Monmouth would seriously impact our military efforts abroad, and find it difficult to believe that the Pentagon will be able to prove otherwise."

Rep. Rush D. Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, called the decision to close the base "misguided and dangerous."

"Any disruption of the fort's support for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will carry grave consequences for our men and women in the field, and will disrupt important programs that are currently under development," he said.

But Colclasure took comfort in the commission's 7-1 vote, with 1 abstention, to close Fort Monmouth.

"We have worked hard to give the commissioners the information they needed to make the right decision and will continue to work hard to see that these jobs come to APG," he said.

Aris Melissaratos, Maryland's secretary of business and economic development, said the decision was a vote of confidence in the state's economy.

"We've had a state-level strategy to make Maryland one of the best knowledge- and technology-driven economies in the country," he said. "It's a huge boost for Maryland's economy, a huge vote of confidence."

Sun staff writer Brad Olson contributed to this article.

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