BRAC requires marketing Md.

Officials try to persuade defense workers reluctant to move here

September 07, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

State officials, trying to persuade military families to move to Maryland when their jobs are transferred here over the next few years, plan to open an office near Fort Monmouth, N.J., that will offer information on real estate, attractions and other vital facts about the Free State.

The plan is part of efforts to market the state to thousands of employees in Virginia and New Jersey who are being relocated to Fort Meade, Aberdeen Proving Ground and elsewhere in Maryland as part of the base realignment and closure process known as BRAC.

Starting today, local and state officials said, they will visit the Defense Information Systems Agency in Northern Virginia and Fort Monmouth to talk about job opportunities for spouses, mass transit, public schools and the housing market.

The officials are also establishing Web sites to advertise job openings for recent college graduates and experienced defense workers.

"We are going to do everything in our power to make the transition as easy as possible," Gov. Martin O'Malley said yesterday in Crownsville before a council overseeing the state's military installations. "We want to look at this as a big positive."

Surveys and informal discussions with federal officials suggest that nearly a third of defense workers plan to move to Maryland with their jobs over the next five to seven years, said J. Michael Hayes, managing director for the Office of Military and Federal Affairs for the Department of Business and Economic Development.

Persuading longtime employees to move to Maryland - or at least stay with their agencies through the transition - is considered critical to maintaining sensitive communications and defense systems that support troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Our primary focus is to keep the bulk of our work force," said David R. Bullock, the BRAC executive for the defense information agency, which must relocate 4,300 jobs from Northern Virginia to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

That agency provides communications links between defense agencies and military personnel in combat zones and elsewhere.

About 5,100 jobs are expected to move from Fort Monmouth, N.J., to APG in Harford County, about a third of whom are scientists and engineers who build radar, battlefield radios and equipment to jam roadside bombs.

Federal agencies are required to complete their BRAC moves by 2011.

In New Jersey, surveys have indicated that 70 percent of Fort Monmouth workers might quit or retire rather than move with their jobs.

Lawmakers there have sought to block the relocation, and in July a planned visit by two busloads of Fort Monmouth workers was postponed.

Maryland officials said they believe New Jersey's efforts to halt the congressionally approved mandate will be in vain, and point to efforts by the Army to jump-start projects.

"Many people are in denial about this," Hayes said.

As construction begins in earnest at APG, New Jersey residents will seriously weigh the idea of moving to Maryland, state officials said.

That's why a sustained marketing effort is crucial if Maryland is to win over these skeptical workers, they said.

To that end, state Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez announced plans to open a "storefront" office within a few months at Fort Monmouth to serve as a "chamber of commerce," providing job resources, along with data on housing and schools.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Perez will lead a delegation today to Fort Monmouth to speak about the transition. Meanwhile, state and local officials said they will attend the information agency's annual picnic today to offer information about Maryland.

Agency representatives say Maryland's marketing efforts are making an impact.

Hundreds of information agency employees live in Fairfax County, Va., and some have been skeptical about uprooting their children from one of the nation's foremost public school systems. Many have been surprised to learn that Howard County has higher SAT scores than Fairfax, Bullock said.

"That really strikes home with them," he said. "It reassures them that they will not lose."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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