Harford redevelopment encouraged

June 06, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

Maryland's top economic development official called on Harford County yesterday to pursue redevelopment in areas such as the U.S. 40 corridor - praising the transformation of a former shoe factory into an idyllic waterfront office park - while preserving agricultural land.

Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development, said the county should seek "balanced growth" as it works to trade an image of warehousing and distribution for high-tech companies that will support the military of the future.

His comments came during a gathering of state, local and military officials in Aberdeen about the effects of the national base realignment plan that will bring thousands of new jobs to Harford.

Melissaratos pointed to Water's Edge, multimillion-dollar office park in Belcamp that was built at the former Bata Shoe Factory site along U.S. 40, as the "poster child" of how development should proceed.

There's nothing wrong with the county's present configuration, he told the crowd. "But this is a new era," he said.

The event was billed as a town hall-style meeting and one of the first opportunities for residents to ask about the effects of the base realignment.

However, top officials took few questions and instead continued to boast of last fall's success in securing more jobs for Aberdeen Proving Ground. Like previous news conferences, details on how the county would adjust to the growth were vague and projections of how many new workers would arrive continued to rise.

About 8,250 on-base jobs are expected to be shifted to APG in the next two to six years, said J. Michael Hayes, a retired general and the director of military and federal affairs for the Department of Business and Economic Development.

Area officials will travel to Fort Monmouth this month to speak to workers and pitch the region as an attractive place to live. They hope to offset criticism that came during the base realignment decision-making process, in which local leaders there painted Harford County as undesirable.

To help with that effort, the county yesterday unveiled an eight-minute video tour of the region, which has been dubbed the Chesapeake Science & Security Corridor. In the video, a prospective county resident - portrayed by Shannon L. Vanden Eynden, a secretary in the county economic development office - asks about quality-of-life issues in Harford County.

"We'll try to sell Maryland to people who are skeptical about wanting to come here," Hayes said. "For those who don't go, that's an opportunity for Marylanders to get new jobs, to change jobs or commute closer to home."

In fact, Melissaratos said, those workers who choose not to come are replaceable. He said there has been discussion of a "brain drain" if the highly skilled workers at Fort Monmouth choose not to follow their jobs to APG in the coming years.

"If they don't come, we'll see a brain enhancement" because Maryland has a top work force, Melissaratos said to cheers.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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