THE ANNOUNCEMENT by the National Security Agency that it will abandon nearly one-quarter of its leased office space near Baltimore-Washington International Airport by July continues the up-and-down saga of one of the region's most vital real estate markets. What is important, though, is that few, if any, actual jobs will be lost. Instead, this is a decision prompted by budgetary considerations that will transfer NSA offices from leased quarters to space within the super-secret intelligence analysis agency's headquarters at Fort Meade.
Although specific figures are a closely guarded secret, NSA is one of this area's major employers. If anything, its worldwide operations have been increasing in recent years as the electronic information revolution has drastically increased the availability of raw communications data that needs to be deciphered and analyzed. As a result, the agency outgrew its headquarters space and leased millions of square feet of offices on the commercial market.
The agency's decision now to cut back on some of these private-market leases comes at an awkward time for the BWI corridor. Another major employer, Westinghouse Electric Corp., recently announced the termination of another 1,000 employees as it continues to try to recast itself into a company that is less dependent on defense-related contracts. These developments are certain to have an adverse effect on Anne Arundel's economy far beyond the two institutions. There will be more of an office space glut, fewer jobs.
In the long term, however, the corridor's prospects seem bright. The BWI area is now the major economic engine, not only for Anne Arundel but for the whole Baltimore region. Its importance is likely to grow further when the hub gets a light-rail link. Already, the station near the airport is being served by more Amtrak trains.
The office real estate market is a peculiar one. Temporary gluts may occur because of a variety of reasons that range from overbuilding to unforeseen space and personnel decisions by institutional users. In the end, the ready availability of much space may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It enables a major company to consider the BWI corridor as an option in its relocation plans.