Army goes on a hiring spree

Base realignment sparks preparation for loss of workers

January 07, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Greg Bily wanted to work in Maryland. So he took a job in New Jersey.

The 30-year-old former Abingdon resident was hired by the Army for a job at Fort Monmouth, N.J., that will migrate to Aberdeen Proving Ground as part of the national base realignment process.

"I thought this was a great opportunity to learn a lot and a great chance to improve myself," said Bily, who has a law degree from the University of Baltimore and was hired for an internship as a management analyst.

A recent military survey estimating that only a small fraction of the workers at Fort Monmouth plan to follow their jobs to Aberdeen has sparked a hiring spree by the Army aimed at putting about 2,600 workers in place at the New Jersey base long before it moves to Maryland.

Those employees would "backfill" projected losses, military officials said. The new hires - including many Marylanders - sign on with the understanding that they will start in New Jersey and move to Maryland with the base's operations.

"We are aggressively hiring from the Maryland area now," said Sue Nappi, assistant deputy chief of staff for operations and plans at Fort Monmouth.

About 25 percent of the Fort Monmouth employees surveyed said they plan to follow their jobs to Maryland. That would leave the military with a significant shortfall in the number of employees needed to run base operations here, Nappi said.

"If we need 75 percent, we can't wait until we get there to hire and train them," she said.

Anticipating difficulty in attracting experienced workers, Army officials intend to hire as many interns as possible and train them during the transition to Aberdeen. The Army is recruiting vigorously at Maryland colleges, offering incentives that include a year of low-cost base housing.

"There are hires from everywhere, provided they are willing to relocate to Maryland," said Henry Kearney, Fort Monmouth spokesman, adding that the majority have been from New Jersey and Maryland.

The acceleration of hiring began last year, when the Army brought on 533 workers - including Bily - for positions in a range of specialties, including engineering, logistics, acquisition and financial management. Of the hires, 270 are entry-level employees or recent college graduates.

The Army found Bily last spring at a Towson University job fair. He later joined Nappi's staff and will rotate through various departments in the communications command, one of the many operations that will move to Aberdeen.

"This is a well-rounded program that is giving me lots of experience. But I probably would not have moved to New Jersey for a job," he said. "The move back to Maryland was definitely a factor in my decision."

Bily has leased a studio apartment on the base and can walk to work. At the end of the two-year internship, he could be earning close to $50,000 a year.

"I am hoping that by the time base operations move to Maryland, I will be in a high-level job," Bily said.

Of the 4,250 employees at Fort Monmouth who are eligible to move with their jobs to Maryland, 53 percent - 2,264 - responded to the electronic survey the Army conducted in November. In addition to the 25 percent who said they plan to move, an additional 40 percent responded that they are undecided. Analysts assume those who did not respond will opt to stay in New Jersey.

"This is the first survey since the decision to close the base," Nappi said. "We plan to do them over and over, just to gauge what is going on."

Further complicating planning is the 60 percent of Monmouth employees eligible to retire before the base closes in 2011. Nappi, who falls in that category, said she has not decided what she will do.

As part of the national base realignment and closure, known as BRAC, Monmouth will close and much of its operations will be relocated to Aberdeen. The Harford County base and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County will receive the bulk of the new jobs as a result of the realignment and closings elsewhere.

Aberdeen Proving Ground is expected to see a net increase of 8,200 workers on the 72,000-acre base. Up to twice that many jobs are expected to arrive in the form of defense contractors and other businesses that will serve the expanding community.

"The bottom line is that anybody who doesn't move here actually makes a job here for somebody else, and these are high-paying jobs," said Vernon Thompson, Cecil County's economic development director.

The job influx should generate hundreds of millions of dollars in additional sales and income tax revenue to pay for the government facilities and services the new arrivals will demand, officials said.

As for the survey, Thompson said the results will help plan for the new arrivals. The data suggest that those coming will be younger families with children and that they will spread out across several jurisdictions in the region.

The majority of relocations from Fort Monmouth will begin in 2010. Most of the survey respondents - 20 percent - said they would settle in Harford. About 11 percent said they would like to live in Delaware, 9 percent would choose Pennsylvania and about 5 percent would make their homes in Cecil County.

Harford is planning to award a contract for further study of the realignment's impact within the next few months and will incorporate the Army's survey into those statistics, said James C. Richardson, the county's economic development director.

"The survey numbers are what we expected and reinforce our thinking," Richardson said. "But we can use the additional information to help keep us on target."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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