Though the influx into Maryland of thousands of jobs from military base realignment is still years away, the first trickle of the expected torrent has already begun.
Mitre Corp., a nonprofit technology firm that operates federally funded labs, plans to open an office Monday about five miles south of Aberdeen Proving Ground.
There will be just eight employees in the new Belcamp office to start, said Danny DeMarinis, director of strategic initiatives for Mitre's Army programs directorate. But by year's end, the number should grow to 10, and keep increasing during the next three to four years as the Army starts transferring jobs from Fort Monmouth in New Jersey to the proving ground.
A total of 8,200 civilian and military jobs at Fort Monmouth are scheduled to move to Aberdeen Proving Ground by 2011 as part of a nationwide shakeup of military bases. About 7,500 to 10,000 jobs with defense contracting firms like Mitre are expected to relocate from New Jersey to offices and laboratories outside the proving ground as the on-base jobs move.
With Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County also expected to grow significantly as a result of the base shuffling, planners project up to 60,000 jobs overall could relocate to the state, bringing an estimated 25,000 new households.
Mitre, founded in 1958 by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who broke off to do research for the Department of Defense, has offices around the world, including Eatontown, N.J., near Fort Monmouth. Its principal offices are in Bedford, Mass., and McLean, Va.
Mitre is moving a handful of its 180-member New Jersey work force now to serve the first defense relocations from Monmouth.
"We go with our sponsor," said DeMarinis, 60, who said he has been shuttling between New Jersey and Maryland for months preparing for the move.
At least two other defense contractors have already opened or acquired offices outside the proving ground, and others are actively searching for space, said J. Thomas Sadowski, executive vice president of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, a collaboration of business, government and educational representatives working to encourage companies to relocate to the region.
Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm with defense contracts, has leased new offices in the area, Sadowski said, while EG&G;, a division of Gaithersburg-based URS Corp. providing engineering and technical support for the New Jersey base, has opened a small office in Harford.
For Mitre, the opening of its Belcamp office is timed to be ready to serve the first contingent of about 50 workers from Fort Monmouth, who DeMarinis said are expected to relocate to Aberdeen by the end of the year.
"We call ourselves 'founders,'" said DeMarinis, who said that he bought a house in Elkton about eight months ago and has been spending a day or two per week in Maryland preparing to open the office.
Kashia Simmons, spokesman for the Army's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center at Monmouth, said that officials there are considering moving some of the 2,200 staff early but that no decisions have been made.
Mitre specializes in developing information technology and sensors, DeMarinis said, and has been assisting Army engineers and scientists at Monmouth in devising "future combat systems."
One focus has been on enabling military personnel in the field to track and identify all "friendly" forces, he said.
While officials anticipate that perhaps 75 percent of the Monmouth base workers may choose to retire or take other jobs rather than relocate to Maryland, DeMarinis said he expects a much higher transfer rate among Mitre's staff. The average age of the Monmouth workers is 48, he said, and Army officials have said that 60 percent of them may be eligible to retire by 2011, when the move is to be completed.
Even with a lower expected dropout rate, DeMarinis said, Mitre is counting on hiring engineers and other qualified staff for its Maryland operation. Two-thirds of the work force at Monmouth now have advanced degrees, said Francis G. McLoughlin, a Mitre spokesman.
DeMarinis said he understands the reluctance of many Monmouth workers to move, but he said he has been largely pleased by what he's found in Maryland so far.
"I have four degrees, and I never stop going to school," he said. "That's important to me. ... Maryland colleges and universities and community colleges are outstanding."
He also characterized housing in northeastern Maryland as "affordable" compared with home prices around Monmouth - though he acknowledged that the housing market may tighten as new households surge into the state in a few years.
DeMarinis said that he was concerned about traffic clogging the highways around the proving ground and that highway expansion could not happen quickly enough to prevent problems. His new home in Elkton is about 30 miles from his office and 25 miles from the base - a longer commute than he was making in New Jersey.
But he said he hoped that Maryland officials would be able to avoid business-discouraging congestion by expanding commuter rail service to Aberdeen relatively quickly and providing shuttle buses to the base.
Also of concern, he said, is the quality of area school systems.
"Some school systems are more rural and therefore don't have some of the special programs that some of my colleagues have taken for granted," DeMarinis said. "But that will come."
Even with his company assisting in relocating its employees, the Mitre executive acknowledged that moving can be personally trying.
"There are personal sacrifices," he said. "My wife ended up retiring maybe earlier than she would have. I have an unsold house in New Jersey."
Still, he said, the move has been eased by helpful new neighbors and by one of their two grown sons who already lives nearby.
"We're excited about the challenge, maintaining the mission, but there's some very real challenges that we all face. ... We have to make this work."