Region readies for job influx

The Baltimore Sun

Predicting that new employees at an expanding Fort Meade will settle as far away as Carroll County and the Eastern Shore, senior government officials from six counties have formed a regional bloc to measure the impact and secure funding for roads, schools and mass transit.

At the first meeting of the Fort Meade growth management committee Wednesday at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, representatives from across the Baltimore region were presented with growth figures that dwarfed previous state estimates for job creation.

The Army post's expansion due to the base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC, and other factors could generate 61,000 jobs and 38,500 households throughout the region, according to the numbers released at Wednesday's meeting. The committee's numbers do not have a timeline.

Local and state officials, however, are relying on a conservative estimate of 22,000 jobs arriving at Fort Meade within seven years. According to the breakdown, nearly 6,000 government jobs will arrive by September 2011, triggering the creation of thousands of contractor jobs. Fort Meade is also facing growth unrelated to BRAC, such as 4,000 workers coming to the National Security Agency.

Officials stressed that several factors will affect the job totals - not least of which is a tentative Army decision to build at least 2 million square feet of office space on 173 acres outside Fort Meade's gates. An office park that size could house 10,000 workers. If that complex houses only private-sector contractors, the job total within the Fort Meade region falls to 45,000, with 28,000 households. Those numbers climb rapidly if government employees are factored into the tenant pool.

Developing a strategy for how to prepare for that growth is a top priority for the regional committee, created by County Executive John R. Leopold to link local jurisdictions to the Department of Defense.

The committee must be established, according to Pentagon rules, by the home jurisdiction of a BRAC-affected installation, in this case, Anne Arundel County, The panel builds on the efforts of a previous committee led by Anne Arundel and Howard counties and the city of Laurel.

Already, the committee includes 19 members from Howard, Carroll, Baltimore, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, along with those from the cities of Laurel and Baltimore. There are six non-voting members, including Leopold, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and Laurel Mayor Craig A. Moe.

"Regional is better," Robert C. Leib, the BRAC regional coordinator for the panel, said yesterday. "Together we are much better leveraging our resources than apart."

Within a few weeks, the committee will put out bids for studies on housing, highway corridors and mass transit, drawing upon $1.4 million federal grant awarded by the Pentagon's Office of Economic Adjustment. Leib said he expects results back within a year.

Leib, who is also special assistant to Leopold on BRAC and education, said one purpose of the regional committee as well as a county BRAC task force is to extract public participation earlier on where to build to schools, widen roads and increase housing density.

Conventional thinking goes that the vast majority of new workers will live within 45 minutes of Fort Meade, meaning they could settle in Sykesville or Stevensville, Baltimore or Bowie. To that end, Leib is looking to bring on representatives from Queen Anne's and Montgomery counties.

"You usually don't get citizen involvement until the bulldozer is in the front yard," Leib said. "From our standpoint, the earlier we hear the disgruntlement, the better."

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