Area officials to unite on job-growth efforts

Promise of BRAC-related work has area chiefs of economic development in cooperative spirit

November 05, 2005|By JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS | JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS,SUN REPORTER

Local economic development chiefs normally keep their cards close to their chests as they compete to bring new employers to their home turf. Now, the prospect of huge growth from the national military realignment has convinced them that sharing is the way to go.

Baltimore-area economic development officials are planning to compile prospects in a joint database and market collaboratively, an idea that grew out of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore's advisory committee, which is staffed by the area's economic development directors.

The base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC, is expected to bring about 7,500 government positions to Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground and thousands of spinoff jobs for contractors and service providers. The total effect could be 40,000 to 45,000 jobs in the region and 60,000 jobs statewide, the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development estimates.

The alliance will promote its efforts to maximize the impact at its annual meeting Tuesday - coincidentally the same day that the BRAC relocation recommendations are expected to become final.

"We're combining all our leads - that's unheard of in economic development," said Christian S. Johansson, president and chief executive of the alliance, a public-private partnership charged with marketing the Baltimore region.

"We think there's just a tremendous amount of potential," he added, referring to BRAC. "It's the biggest thing in economic development for our region in the last 20 years."

The alliance will soon hire someone to head up the BRAC initiative, he said.

David S. Iannucci, Baltimore County's economic development director, said the majority of new jobs will be clustered around the bases but the rest of the region should benefit as well. Iannucci, who chairs the alliance's advisory committee, said it makes sense for the city and counties to work together to market to contractors.

"Companies are asking questions now," he said. "They want to make educated decisions."

The Economic Alliance - formerly the Greater Baltimore Alliance - decided a year ago to focus on marketing to a handful of sectors that it considered a good fit for the region. Defense-related information technology is one of them, as is life sciences.

It will send a group of 16 politicians, business leaders and university representatives on an executive trade mission to Boston in about a week to woo companies in both fields, hoping to build on the military alignment potential and to find anchor tenants for the city's new biotech parks.

Aris Melissaratos, the state's secretary of business and economic development, said he needs the alliance to spend more time marketing life sciences than defense.

"The competition is tougher in life sciences," he said. "In defense and information technology, things are going to happen, because BRAC has pretty much dictated that we're going to be big winners."

The alliance will also put together missions next year to areas with a large number of contractors that do business with the military operations set to move to the Baltimore region, Johansson said.

He says that some contractors will open offices here without being asked, but he wants the alliance to go after the fence-sitters. "We might be able to have a significant impact on job numbers," he said.

jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

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