For the first time, more than half the defense workers whose jobs are moving from Northern Virginia to Fort Meade as part of the federal base realignment and closing process say they are coming too, according to a new survey.
Most intend to initially commute from their Virginia homes, according to Jack Penkoske, director of manpower, personnel and security for the Defense Information Systems Agency, which conducted the anonymous survey in late May.
The 58 percent of the 4,300 DISA workers who now plan to keep their jobs even after the move represent a 19 percentage-point increase from last spring's survey, Penkoske said, a larger increase than he expected. Only 13 percent said they would likely not move to Maryland, a 7-point drop, while 29 percent remained undecided, down 10 points.
"That's a good jump in the right direction," Penkoske said, because the agency wants to keep as many experienced employees as possible.
At a BRAC-related groundbreaking on Monday, Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown said he hopes "to turn commuters into community residents."
Brown and other officials broke ground for a $36 million office building at the National Business Park bordering Fort Meade in Annapolis Junction, near the Howard County-Anne Arundel County line. U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who also attended the event, said it shows the kind of effect BRAC is already having.
With Fort Meade and the National Security Agency nearby and expanding, the new 150,000-square-foot structure is positioned to attract defense-related businesses.
The recession may persuade more DISA workers to stay in their jobs, while delaying decisions by workers to move to the state, officials at the groundbreaking said.
"A lot of people don't have a choice. There are no other jobs," Cardin said. "The commute will be very wearing," he added, prompting workers to move over time.
"It is going to be a [longer] transition," rather than a sudden impact, added Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who like Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold said that has a benefit in allowing more time for higher county impact fees to be used to help expand roads and schools.
Leopold said the county has also spent more than $2 million strengthening the science, technology, engineering and math curriculum at the community college branch at Arundel Mills that could help residents prepare for federal jobs.
"We've put more focus on our hiring in the state of Maryland," Penkoske said.
The agency hired 50 people from the thousands who flooded a June 13 job fair at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in North Laurel. Another 100 hires are in the offing, he said, from the pool of 3,000 resumes collected there.
While the recession, retirement savings losses and the slow real estate market are playing a role in whether people move with their jobs, according to DISA, those surveyed said transportation was the biggest single factor in their decision. More than 75 percent said the ability to work at least partly from home would make a difference in their final decisions.
Penkoske said DISA will use van pools to aid commuters, and 45 percent of the workforce already works up to three days a week from home.
Maryland officials were delighted at the survey results.
"I think overall it's going to have a great positive economic impact," said Andy Moser, assistant secretary of workforce development. He noted that in 2005, only 28 percent of agency workers said they were likely to move to Maryland. They have a choice because, unlike the 5,500 workers at Fort Monmouth, N.J., whose jobs are moving to Aberdeen, the DISA employees are close enough to commute to work.
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman sees that as a chance to fill some empty Maryland MARC commuter trains headed north from Washington's Union Station each morning. "I think if a significant number continue to commute over time, it becomes much more important to offer mass transit possibilities from MARC," he said.