BRAC `gold rush' sets in

Seminars and Web sites focus on how to cash in on military base growth

November 12, 2007|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN REPORTER

Real estate agents offering to help defense workers find homes. Law firms peddling their expertise in negotiating military contracts. Management and sales consultants tendering advice on how to sell to the government or contractors.

The huge nationwide military base shuffle has spawned a cottage industry of businesses and entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on the influx of up to 60,000 jobs and 28,000 households to Maryland. If the almost weekly conferences, seminars and workshops aren't enough, there are newsletters and Web sites offering the lowdown on how Maryland will be affected by the Pentagon's Base Closure and Realignment Commission's 2005 decision to shift thousands of mostly civilian, high-tech defense workers to military installations here.

The swarm of businesses around BRAC is hardly surprising. Between construction contracts, defense spending and a general increase in commerce from the growing population, the base buildup is expected to pump billions of dollars into the economy.

FOR THE RECORD - A Nov. 12 article about business interest in capitalizing on an influx of military base workers to Maryland incorrectly described workshops about the base realignment conducted by Perry Ealim, president and CEO of Merge Business Development Systems. The events that Ealim puts on are free of charge.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Planners say most of the jobs and households won't show up until 2010 or 2011 - and even then, the only concrete numbers are the 16,000 civilian and military jobs, plus defense contractors, expected to relocate here.

The gold rush has begun for lucrative construction contracts to build offices and laboratories for the new base workers. One Baltimore-based electrical contractor, Gill-Simpson Inc., landed its biggest job ever, part of a $477.5 million contract to build new offices at Aberdeen Proving Ground. It's bidding for a similar job at Fort Meade.

Ronald N. Michael III, the firm's vice president, says he suddenly has lots of new friends - ranging from electricians in Iowa who call to see if he's hiring, to hot dog vendors and Spot-a-Pot firms seeking to serve his construction sites.

He gets calls

"I had a tire company call me and say, `What's your fleet of trucks? Who does your tires?'" he said.

News of the electrical contractor's big score drew Chuck Love to a base realignment business workshop in Cecil County recently. Love, who works for United Electric Supply Co. in Baltimore, said his firm had done a little work at Fort Meade before but was hoping to sign on as a supplier for a new military construction job. "Everybody's looking to get in there," he said.

Other business opportunities might have to wait a few years, but entrepreneurs perk up when they hear - as the Cecil workshop did - that the Army spent $13 billion last year on electronic warfare. Much of it passed through the Fort Monmouth, N.J., research center that's scheduled to move to Aberdeen.

The ranks of entrepreneurs selling BRAC savvy include Joseph A. Oricchio Jr., Perry Ealim and Chuck Floyd.

Oricchio, a Bel Air sales and planning consultant, publishes BRAC Watch, an occasional online newsletter about base realignment.

"I've become what I refer to as a student of BRAC," Oricchio said, with a newsletter he describes as a "loss leader" for his consulting business. Though the state Small Business Development Center has paid him to arrange some workshops on preparing for BRAC, he does much of his speaking on a volunteer basis.

"Business development sales is a full-contact sport," Oricchio advised attendees at the Cecil workshop. `You've got to get out there belly to belly with the decision-makers."

Ealim, meanwhile, says he drew about 200 to a seminar on base realignment in Annapolis last month for minority-owned businesses. Owner of a consulting firm, Ealim says he's hoping to do another BRAC symposium early next year.

"It's like a big maze out there," Ealim said of the complexities of government contracting - especially for the small businesses owned by minorities and women that he's trying to serve. "I'm trying to build my business, too," he said. "It's a win-win for everybody."

Floyd, a Bethesda security consultant, runs "Official BRAC," a Web site that advertises itself as a "trusted source for real-time, accurate BRAC information for Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

In addition to Floyd's Web site, which he says has drawn 40 or 50 paying clients, Floyd has helped organize meetings promoting various business aspects of BRAC. His work to date has been essentially charitable.

Lawyer ally

"We don't get a salary, we don't get anything," Floyd said. "Then, if we're able to team with someone on a contract later, that's fine."

At least three local law firms have created BRAC pages on their Web sites. One of them, Whiteford Taylor Preston, sponsored a "Building with BRAC" seminar in June, with Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger as the keynote speaker. The Baltimore County Democrat drew more than 175 contractors, developers and government officials.

Heather James, head of Whiteford's BRAC committee, said she and other lawyers have joined the alliances and task forces that formed around Aberdeen, Fort Detrick and Fort Meade. By year's end, the firm plans to publish a quarterly newsletter focusing on realignment legal issues.

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