The Army is scheduled to award a contract next month for the construction of a giant office complex at Aberdeen Proving Ground, one of the largest development contracts in Harford County, officials said.
The office complex will house a military operation being moved into the county from New Jersey as part of the military base realignment, officials said.
"It will be the first major step in the shift of about 10,000 jobs from Fort Monmouth to APG," said James C. Richardson, Harford County's economic development director. "It's a big project, perhaps the largest single development contract in the history of the county."
Richardson said the contract is for a $500 million office complex to house the military's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center.
He said the new complex, which would house about 5,000 civilian defense workers, would be about four times the size of the Harford Mall.
The relocation of operations from Fort Monmouth to the nearly 73,000-acre Army base on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay is part of the Defense Department's nationwide Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process announced in 2005.
Richardson said groundbreaking is expected to take place before the end of the year.
"The Army is already putting in the underground fiber optic cables needed to run high-speed computers," he said.
According to Richardson, the Army Corps of Engineers will select the general contractor for the new communications-electronics center on Sept. 25.
"My job is to make sure the general contractor gets a list of local construction workers," Richardson said.
He expects the project to result in the hiring of at least 200 construction workers.
He said work on the office complex would be equivalent to rebuilding the Conowingo Dam and electric power generation station.
The Army's communications-electronics center is not the only big construction project slated for APG.
A second project, unrelated to BRAC, involves the construction of a 300-acre business and technology park on the base.
The developer, Rockville-based Opus East LLC, has announced plans for a facility that would include more than 1 million square feet of office space, nearly that amount in structures designed for research and development work, and 800,000 square feet of laboratory space.
Plans call for a campus-like setting, including more than a dozen buildings and possibly a 250-to-300-room hotel.
Scott Broody, general manager of Opus, said construction would begin before the end of the year.
The project is called Government and Technology Enterprise, or GATE, said Ben Gross, a spokesman for the company. It was stimulated by the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
GATE is designed to house federal agencies, government contractors and private companies wanting the security of being located on a military base behind a fence and guarded gate.
County officials say it could bring an additional 10,000 jobs to APG. Harford officials already refer to Aberdeen Proving Ground as the engine that pulls the county's economy.
Debi Horne, an Aberdeen spokeswoman, said that as of the end of June, the base had 18,279 military and civilian employees, making it the county's largest employer. Employment has jumped nearly 19 percent since 2005.
APG contributed nearly $870 million to the county's economy last year and it accounts for about 25 percent of all the salaries and wages in Harford and Cecil counties, officials said.
The base's influence on the economy of the northeastern part of the state is expected to grow in coming years.
APG officials say that as a result of BRAC alone, the base will post a net gain of 8,200 workers by 2009 or 2010.
The base will lose some jobs, however. The 2,500-soldier Ordnance Center and School is being moved to Fort Lee, Va. Officials anticipate that BRAC will bring in another 16,000 contractor positions and boost the region's population by 60,000 people.
APG's annual payroll is scheduled to rise by an additional $2 billion a year and it will generate $100 million more in annual income tax revenue.
Richardson said the county is in the planning phase of the improvements that will be needed in roads, rail service, schools and public services to handle the expected growth.
"Northeast Maryland has the opportunity of becoming the next great research center in the country," said Richardson.
He said the county's vision is for something similar to North Carolina's research triangle or the research center in Austin, Texas.