20,000 more Md. jobs forecast

Civilian workers in base realignment will challenge resources

October 01, 2005|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

The national military realignment will attract at least 20,000 private jobs to Maryland on top of the more than 6,000 government positions already estimated, state officials said yesterday.

Such an influx of jobs will demand an unprecedented upgrade of infrastructure that will cost several billion dollars, they said.

Including public and private workers and their families, Maryland Planning Secretary Audrey E. Scott said, during the next six years 60,000 people could settle in Central Maryland, much of which is already grappling with issues of growth.

Leaders representing Maryland at every level said the state faces its most difficult challenge in recent history to build new schools and houses, upgrade roads and extend mass transit to accommodate the growth, while maintaining the quality of life for those who are already here.

"People who are coming to this area want to know three things: Where is my child going to school? Where will we live? How will I get to work?" said Harford County Executive David R. Craig, a Republican.

Many of the transportation dollars will be expected to come from the federal government, but state and local officials are preparing to bear the increased burden of paying for new schools and police and fire protection.

The realignment will occur over the next two to six years - time that officials said they will use to develop comprehensive plans and a precise price tag.

"We need to get funding to everyone who needs it," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat.

At a meeting in Crownsville of representatives of the state's military installations, attended by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., his Cabinet and some of the state's congressional delegation and county leaders, officials also spoke of the need to expand the capacity of the state's colleges and universities to train future generations of high-tech workers.

The two epicenters of expansion are Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground. Fort Meade is expected to get about 5,300 government jobs; APG, about 2,200.

But only in recent weeks have state and military officials begun to fully grasp the number of private workers likely to follow.

At APG, because of the likely expansion of weapons research and testing, officials put the overall number of private and government workers at close to 20,000.

"That's nearly double [the population] of what comes onto the post today," said Col. John T. Wright, APG commander.

At Fort Meade, where intelligence operations are expanding around the headquarters of the National Security Agency, military officials put the number of government and private workers at close to 15,000.

The job gains related to the base realignment and closure process - known as BRAC - are independent of other additions at APG, Fort Meade and other military installations.

For example, the NSA is hiring 7,500 workers through 2009 to expand its counterterrorism operations. Many of those hires are expected to be placed at Fort Meade.

Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said that as many as three privately employed workers could be hired for every new NSA employee to support surveillance operations at the spy agency.

The proposed realignment of jobs to Maryland seems assured, as a federal commission largely kept intact the Pentagon recommendations affecting the state when it sent the national realignment package to President Bush Sept. 8. He approved it, and Congress has until the end of October to vote on it.

The state repeatedly pointed to its pool of educated workers - among the deepest in the nation - and the space to accommodate those jobs and the related influx of private contract workers as reasons Maryland was the right place to fortify military operations.

"You make promises and make people believe you will be the best host for guests from other states; maybe you over-promise, but then you deliver," Melissaratos said.

Some of the heavy lifting is already being performed.

At Fort Meade, Army officials are fine-tuning a three-decade master plan to accommodate nearly 5,300 jobs coming there, mostly in defense and information technology. That plan calls for using two golf courses at the center of the 5,400-acre post to house federal agencies that require greater security.

Officials there said the 400-acre open space could handle at least 20,000 workers.

Proposals also call for expanding mass transit. The state revealed this summer that it was developing plans to extend the Washington-area Metro's Green Line to Fort Meade and on to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, a project that could take two decades to finish and cost more than $2 billion.

As part of a $286 billion multi-year transportation bill that Congress passed this summer, about $12.5 million was set aside to upgrade Route 175 from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to Route 170.

At Aberdeen, officials are expecting the biggest expansion to the Army installation since World War II. To handle the arrival of at least 10,000 private workers, representatives for Harford, Cecil and Baltimore counties have created a joint marketing effort to accommodate defense contractors in each of those areas.

Harford officials said the influx will demand a better road system on Interstate 95 and U.S. 40, along with increased bus and rail service.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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