Perched on a slope just west of Baltimore, near the intersection of Interstate 70 and the Baltimore Beltway, is a sprawling office park that houses the headquarters of the Social Security Administration and its 9,800 workers. Last week, the agency's director sketched out plans for a new $750 million data center to be built within 40 miles of the Woodlawn complex. Most of its funding is from the president's economic stimulus package, and that puts the project on the fast track - a significant asset and economic opportunity for the Baltimore region.
The new state-of-the-art data center should mean much more than temporary construction jobs and increased Social Security employment. It should be a model Smart Growth effort - providing an economic anchor for a Baltimore-area neighborhood, an impetus for an improved regional mass transit linkand a magnet for high-technology business development.
Some attractive possibilities are already apparent. The Red Line, a proposed 14-mile line between Woodlawn and Hopkins Bayview, is under serious consideration. It could offer access to possible "brown field" development sites in Baltimore or connect to transit lines convenient to other potential locations for the new data center. Like many proposed mass transit projects, the Red Line is likely to face tough competition for federal dollars from other proposed transit projects in Maryland and elsewhere. But the added role of connecting the Social Security headquarters and its data center might give the Red Line an extra boost.
Baltimore County's economic development chief, David Iannucci, has already been receiving calls from developers interested in the data center project. Contractors vying for technical work in the center may want to locate near the new site, creating added demand for commercial space and more local employment. The high-tech nature of the center's work is also likely to demand more highly skilled workers and offer education and training opportunities for area colleges and universities.
Local officials should work together with all possible stakeholders to multiply the potential economic and social benefits of the data center. If this region is able to turn the project into the keystone of a successful neighborhood revitalization plan or regional transportation project, that success story could produce another bonus - recognition that Baltimore is a good place to make economic investments.
No matter how this development unfolds, the data center is certain to become a valued addition in a network of federal facilities that are providing Maryland with vital economic support through the downturn.