Bracing for BRAC

New jobs, new businesses, new commuters and new problems expected as military’s base realignment plan advances in Washington suburbs

Friday, Aug. 4, 2006


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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
As the National Naval Medical Center becomes the Walter Reed National Military Center beginning in 2010, Bethesda is expected to see about 4,200 new jobs, which means more traffic along an already burdened Wisconsin Avenue. That’s one reason area chambers of commerce say Metro should build the proposed Purple Line between Bethesda and Silver Spring.






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Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are poised to benefit from the Pentagon’s sweeping military base realignment plan.

News of the Pentagon shifts has largely focused on the Baltimore area, but the Washington suburbs will reap sizable gains, too, said Anirban Basu of the Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic and policy consulting firm.

The defense realignment will mean an added burst in jobs and residents. But ‘‘it’s not all good news,” Basu said. ‘‘Issues such as transportation, affordable housing and schools ... will have to be addressed.”

BRAC, the Base Realignment and Closure plan, is now shaping up along these lines:

*In Montgomery County, state officials project as many as 4,200 new military, civilian and contractor jobs at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda by 2011 — up from an estimated 1,900 last year. County officials have only begun studying what needs to be done to handle the thousands of new workers.

*In Prince George’s County, Andrews Air Force Base is to gain 400 jobs — although one county official said that number will be closer to 1,500 — and the Pentagon might soon add 2,000 more jobs there under other programs. To ease Andrews traffic, a new$92 million interchange is planned at Pennsylvania Avenue and Suitland Parkway.

*Also in Prince George’s, the Laurel area is expected to grow from a big buildup at Fort Meade and the National Security Agency, both nearby in Anne Arundel County.

*In Frederick, Fort Detrick is expected to gain 120 military and civilian jobs. The base also may receive several hundred more new jobs at a new research lab. Frederick and Carroll counties won’t receive many direct new jobs but are expected to feel housing, road and school pressures as new workers seek less expensive housing.

Across Maryland, estimated net direct job gains from BRAC have risen in the past year from about 6,500 to 16,000. Indirect additional positions, which include service companies and retailers, are expected to push that total to more than 40,000.

‘‘We expect it to be one of the biggest postwar movements of jobs Maryland has seen,” said Daraius Irani, director of applied economics and human services at the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University. The influx of people is expected to add $421 million annually in new state and local tax revenues, he said.

Bethesda Naval Center

In Bethesda, the National Naval Medical Center on Rockville Pike at Jones Bridge Road could almost double its present 4,500 civilian and military employees. That includes about 1,200 employees relocating from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington to the expanded Bethesda center and more than 2,200 support positions.

The renamed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is expected to double its outpatient load, adding another 560,000 patient visits annually.

Many of the transferees from Walter Reed will be commuting rather than moving closer to Bethesda beginning in 2010, according to a recent SAIC study commissioned by the state.

The medical center’s expansion lends another reason why Metro should build the proposed Purple Line between Bethesda and Silver Spring, said officials with the Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Montgomery County chambers of commerce.

W. David Dabney, executive director of the Bethesda Urban Partnership, a nonprofit that promotes the downtown, wants to attract some of the new employees to downtown restaurants, shops and cultural attractions.

He would also like to see more people live downtown: ‘‘There are new residential projects planned downtown that people who want to live closer to where they work might want to take advantage of.”

At the same time, Bethesda will lose 2,833 jobs due to the move of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency near Glen Echo to Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Va., according to last year’s BRAC report.

Ginanne Italiano, president of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase chamber, said she hadn’t heard about any possible replacements for the Geospatial space, which is well away from Rockville Pike. ‘‘It’s in such a good location, I think it will be grabbed up quickly,” she said.

Gains in Prince George’s

Andrews, which has about 17,000 employees, is slated to gain 400 jobs under BRAC, mostly from Arlington, Va.

That number could be closer to 1,500, said M.H. ‘‘Jim” Estepp, president and CEO of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable Council and president of the Andrews Business and Community Alliance.

‘‘The Air Force is moving its top administrative functions to Andrews,” Estepp said. ‘‘Those types of moves are always larger than they start out to be.”

The Pentagon could add 2,000 more jobs there under programs not related to BRAC, said J. Michael Hayes, a Department of Business and Economic Development manager, who is coordinating state planning for BRAC.

Basu said the Andrews jobs could cause more housing to be built in southern Prince George’s.

And in the Prince George’s County portion of Laurel, a 22,000-square-foot, four-story building that will house residential units, office and retail is already being built — the first of three buildings planned by Legends Group of Burtonsville to be completed by 2008, said developer Michael Collins.

Collins began that project before BRAC, but the realignment has helped increase interest in leasing space there.

‘‘I’ve had 68 inquiries for the first 12 residential units. I’ve already sold out the retail and office space of one-and-a-half buildings,” Collins said. ‘‘[BRAC] was a blessing.”

Fort Meade additions

The relocation of more than 5,700 employees and ‘‘embedded” contractors — who are essentially full-time employees — to Fort Meade beginning in 2008 is expected to boost the regional economy by at least $1 billion annually, said James R. Baldwin, vice president of M&T Bank’s commercial banking group and president of the Fort Meade Alliance. About 41,000 people work there now.

Fort Meade is in Anne Arundel County but near Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. While many employees in Northern Virginia will commute rather than move to Maryland, some will retire — meaning more jobs may be open for Marylanders than first expected, said H. Walter Townshend III, president and CEO of the Baltimore-Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce.

On top of the BRAC changes, National Security Agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade is adding 7,500 jobs by the end of 2008.

Planning for changes

Some counties are ahead of others in preparing for the changes.

In Harford and Anne Arundel counties — home of Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade, respectively, where most of the new jobs are headed — officials have formed planning committees and new projects to accommodate the added workers and residents are well on their way.

But in Montgomery, officials are only in the planning stage of forming a county task force. That group is supposed to be up and running by early next year.

County Councilman Steven A. Silverman, who chairs the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, said the committee has asked the county’s Planning Board to review the Battery Lane area near the medical center for potential housing opportunities. Rather than road improvements, he said, he would like to see more transit shuttles to Metro.

‘‘We can’t feasibly widen Wisconsin Avenue,” said Silverman (D-At large) of Silver Spring, who is running for county executive.

In Prince George’s, Kwasi G. Holman, president and CEO of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp., said that county is ‘‘fully prepared for the impact of new jobs and people to Prince George’s County due to expansions at Andrews and Fort Meade.

‘‘We’ve been working for more than a year with state officials, the Fort Meade Alliance, the Andrews Business and Community Alliance and others to make sure we get our fair share of jobs and residents from that process.”

Among planned Prince George’s road improvements is a $92 million, mostly state-funded project for a new interchange at Pennsylvania Avenue and Suitland Parkway aimed at easing traffic near Andrews. Holman said more off-base housing may be developed in that area as well.

28,400 new households

The bulk of the BRAC-related employment buildup will not occur until 2009, although more than $1 billion worth of office, lab and housing construction has started or will soon in the state, he said.

Total cost of military construction for BRAC just at Aberdeen, Fort Meade, the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda and Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs in the next four years is estimated at $1.8 billion. That does not count new construction for private contractors and other businesses that crop up around the bases.

Even with the commuters from out of state, about 28,400 new households are expected across Maryland over the next decade due to BRAC, said Irani of Towson University. About 90 percent of the jobs will require security clearances and won’t be the kind that can be offshored to other countries, he said.

Where people who move to Maryland end up settling — whether it’s Montgomery, Prince George’s or another county — will depend in large part on what local officials do to improve infrastructure and schools and attract those potential residents, Hayes said.