At long last, BRAC jobs boom set to hit this summer

Hundreds of jobs transferring to Aberdeen in August, with more coming

June 22, 2010|By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun

The long-anticipated BRAC boom — the new jobs, offices and ripple economic effects — are finally on the way.

The Army will transfer nearly 1,500 jobs to Aberdeen Proving Ground in August and September, according to the state. That would nearly double the number that have moved to Harford County because of the national military base realignment and closure process, or BRAC, announced in 2005. Thousands more jobs, many of them unfilled, are expected to follow.

Government contractors are gearing up, too. Offices are opening in Harford County at a fast clip — three dozen during the past year. Others are expanding. Defense contractor ManTech International Corp. is leasing half of a building now under construction in Belcamp, with plans to bring 300 to 500 tech jobs there by 2013 on top of the 50 it has now in Harford County.

"It's a real boom situation at a time when there's not a lot of boom in most places," said George Mercer, the proving ground's public affairs officer.

That surge will continue into next year, when the BRAC effort is expected to send thousands of jobs to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County. About 300 workers already have relocated to the base. The largest agency moving there will transfer 150 to 200 jobs a week from January through July, according to the county.

By the end of next summer, the two Baltimore-area bases will have 14,000 BRAC-related government jobs and embedded contractors, local officials say. About 12,000 of those are still to come.

Also expected over several more years are as many as 20,000 off-base contractor jobs and thousands more spinoff jobs as shops, day care centers and other service businesses open to meet the new demand.

BRAC is not only expected to bring newcomers to town, as workers relocate with the jobs they've been performing elsewhere, but the effort also will yield job openings. That is expected to help other sectors — construction of new offices and homes, for instance — though the extent of that economic boost is under debate.

The Army estimates that about half of the people whose jobs are being transferred to Aberdeen Proving Ground during the next 15 months will make the move, said James C. Richardson, Harford County's director of economic development. A higher percentage of workers is expected to transfer with their jobs to Fort Meade because many of them are now based in Northern Virginia and could commute.

Many jobs would be filled locally, good news in a struggling economy. Maryland's unemployment rate was a low 4.2 percent when the BRAC moves were announced five years ago. Now it's 7.2 percent, with 215,000 unemployed Marylanders seeking jobs.

When the Defense Information Systems Agency held a job fair this spring in preparation for its move to Fort Meade, more than 7,000 applicants attended, said Robert C. Leib, special assistant for BRAC to the Anne Arundel County executive.

"One of our biggest opportunities in Maryland … is to ensure that our citizens and our students get the proper preparation, academically and professionally, to be competitive for these jobs," Leib said.

About 1,100 of the jobs being transferred to Aberdeen Proving Ground in August and September are civilian positions from Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, and the Army thinks about three-quarters will come as unfilled positions.

An Army team known as C4ISR, which specializes in defense information-technology work ranging from communications-electronics to signals intelligence, has been hiring at a gallop to get those positions filled. Many of the 1,700 people at the base are new hires.

"We're not waiting until we get there with a bunch of vacancies," said Deborah T. Devlin, a human resources director who is overseeing the BRAC move for the C4ISR team. "A lot of our hires are veterans who have brought some of those skills from their military service, and we also found that there's a large pool of experienced federal employees."

Though Maryland is among the states with the highest percentages of highly educated residents, there are likely to be mismatches between those in need of work and BRAC jobs in need of filling.

Defense contractors are having trouble finding qualified applicants for jobs in the Fort Meade area, and that's not counting the BRAC effect yet, said Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who is overseeing Maryland's preparations for the base expansions.

"Some of it is skill set, education level," he said. "Some of it is because people don't have security clearances."

The state doled out grants to 11 two- and four-year colleges in December for programs to help close skill gaps, such as a computer science boot camp for career changers at Loyola University. And public schools are now teaching "security clearance awareness" — telling students, for instance, that a felony on your record as a young adult can severely undermine your chances of an $80,000-a-year BRAC job down the road.

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