Influx of defense jobs puts onus on localities

December 21, 2005|By ROBERT SALONGA | ROBERT SALONGA,CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- It was good news last month when Congress officially approved plans to send thousands of defense jobs to Maryland's two largest military installations, but before the economic boost is toted up, the adjacent communities must find a way to build and pay for infrastructure expansions.

Anne Arundel County's Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County are fast-tracking preparations for an estimated total job increase of 7,500, the growth resulting from base closures in surrounding states.

Under the Defense Department's base plan, the changes -- additions of about 5,300 military personnel at Fort Meade and 2,200 at Aberdeen -- must be initiated within two years and completed within six. The first deadline is no problem, but six years is a relative sprint considering what is needed to handle the additional thousands in families, businesses and contractors expected to follow the relocated workers.

The communities anticipated expansion when the latest round of the Base Realignment and Closure process began this year. Both bases were reasonably safe from major losses because Fort Meade is adjacent to the National Security Agency and Aberdeen Proving Ground is a straight drive on the interstate from Washington.

Obtaining funding is the foremost, but least certain, task in the early planning stages. The federal government has the biggest pot of money available for the expansions, so municipalities are aiming their best pitches there to ensure minimal impact on state and county coffers.

"The demand on the federal dollar is pretty significant," said J. Thomas Sadowski, director of the Harford County Office of Economic Development. "That means we have to show how we're doing things in the most quick and efficient manner."

The state can reasonably expect a good return on whatever costs it ends up shouldering: Fort Meade and NSA, together the largest employer in Maryland, contribute $4 billion annually to the state economy, and local officials estimate a $1 billion boost in that figure when the expansion is complete.

APG is estimated to produce nearly $2 billion annually.

At Fort Meade, Route 175, which runs along the post's eastern border, is a target for expansion. This fall, the state's congressional delegation secured $12.5 million to widen the road that will become an even more important artery into the growing installation. The estimated $100 million road project includes noise barriers around the base perimeter.

Also in the area, developers are constructing at least 37 new residential areas with 10 or more housing units. Odenton Town Center, a 1,600-acre site, is a mix of retail and residential developments under way that locals hope will help the area handle an growing number of services for the expected population influx.

On the work force front, community advocates are brainstorming incentives, from schools to jobs, to encourage reluctant workers to move from states such as Virginia and New Jersey. There is talk of establishing a homeland security curriculum at local middle and high schools along with programs aimed at accommodating spousal employment needs.

Robert Salonga writes for Capital News Service.

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