By 2015, Menser's office is estimating an overall workforce on the base of about 65,000, largely because Fort Meade has a "threat-driven mission" and its role in technology and information assurance will continue to grow, he said.

Locally, Menser's office is projecting that between 2007 and 2015, about 8,800 new job-holders and 5,500 new households will come into Howard County because of Fort Meade growth.

"I don't know if anyone knows at this stage how big Fort Meade is going to grow," he said. "We believe we're probably at a third to a half of overall Fort Meade growth at this period."

Segall agreed, noting that Fort Meade's mission as the "nerve center" of the nation's cyber defense systems is only likely to grow, especially considering the "increased assaults by the Chinese" on cyber networks.

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"One of the areas that can't be skimped on, because of the threat from overseas that continues to escalate, is intelligence and cyber warfare and cyber security," he said.

Looking ahead

Fort Meade's continued growth will not come without ramifications, including increased traffic and stress on existing infrastructure, from affordable housing to schools capacity. The question of whether the county is prepared to deal with those ramifications is one that has been debated for years.

Specifically, the current inadequacy of the area's transportation infrastructure is a major concern, Segall said.

Overall, however, Fort Meade's growth has been largely positive for the area, Segall and others said.

"BRAC in Maryland has meant more jobs, a stronger economy, and our state's contribution to our national security," Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who chaired Gov.Martin O'Malley's BRAC subcabinet, wrote in emailed statements

"BRAC has had a positive impact on economic development in Howard County. It continues to bring job opportunities to our community that are a good fit for our highly educated technology workers," said Laura Neuman, the county's economic development chief, in an email. "Cyber continues to be a strong opportunity in Maryland and BRAC fits right into that target. The growth of Cyber Command will continue to bring jobs to Maryland."

Those jobs, in turn, will bring smart, educated people to the county, Ulman said.

"What I'm so excited about is the indirect benefits to the region, which are that some of the brightest people in the world work at Fort Meade, and so those are the kind of people who also start new companies when they leave Fort Meade and who pride themselves on education," Ulman said. "Their families, their spouses, their children are highly educated, so that helps our school system and really adds to our value of life here in the county."

Moving forward, the companies who hire those employees will continue to be courted, too, in part through the BRAC Business Initiative, established in 2009 by Ulman, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings and Howard Community College President Kate Hetherington to help small and minority businesses in the area better understand what's needed in the defense contracting field.

"We want to make sure that we're connecting the dots with Howard County employees and citizens the best we can," Ulman said.

Menser, praised by Ulman as a "great leader" for the county on all things Fort Meade-related, said he has conducted interviews with more than 2,000 companies interested in the initiative.

In all, Fort Meade's role as a key economic hub for the area has been solidified, Menser said, a fact that is sometimes missed because of the secrecy that surrounds much of the base's mission.

"From a public relations standpoint, there is a lot of new construction on Fort Meade that the typical resident in this area can't see, and people on Fort Meade can't talk about their jobs," Menser said.

"But if this was an automobile plant over there that employed 56,000 people, we'd all know a lot more about its impact on our region."

Next week: Along with jobs, Fort Meade expansion could bring something less desirable: crowded roads and other infrastructure woes.