THE LATEST LAYOFFS at Westinghouse Electric Corp. are a sign of the times, an unhappy, inevitable byproduct of the post-Cold War era and overall government downsizing.
Anne Arundel County feels the pain of these changes more than most communities. Government has long been the cornerstone of the Arundel economy. Thousands worked for the state in Annapolis or commuted to federal jobs in Washington. Countless more worked for Fort George G. Meade, the National Security Administration, the Naval Surface Warfare Center and defense contractors, most notably Westinghouse. These jobs seemed secure. "There will always be a government," people said. "You're always going to need defense." Now Fort Meade is shrinking and being converted to a federal business park, the Naval Surface Warfare Center is closing, government workers and defense contractors are being laid off.
The world is a different place. That is not entirely a bad thing. Does anyone really wish to revive the Soviet Union and the omnipresent fear of nuclear war? Do voters want to go back to casting a blind eye toward the federal deficit? Of course not.
And yet, government downsizing hurts communities. It hurts people. The folks in Linthicum who will get pink slips will face a trauma exceeded only by the loss of a loved one: the loss of livelihood and the possible loss of their homes. These are specialized workers whose abilities do not transfer easily. If they have to leave the area, the area suffers. The lunch spots and shops in Linthicum lose customers. Schools lose PTA members. Churches lose parishioners. Community groups lose leaders.
While individuals prepare for life after Westinghouse, the county and state must do the same. The economy must be weaned off government and government-dependent industry. The focus must be on private-sector development -- and not just on attracting large corporations. As much of a coup as it is for a county to snare a big fish -- as Anne Arundel did this week when BGE announced its new, merged headquarters would be in Annapolis -- it is the mom and pop businesses that are replacing government as the backbone of our economy.