Thursday, Dec. 20, 2007

O’Malley, Brown: Maryland is geared up for BRAC growth

Carroll County could benefit from state plan to handle influx

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Maryland is ready for the onslaught of tens of thousands of people expected to come to Maryland in the next few years as a result of military base realignment, said Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown Monday.

And Carroll County could benefit from the state’s plan to handle growth from military base realignment, according to Denise Beaver, the county’s deputy director of economic development.

As part of the state’s preparations, the O’Malley administration will sponsor three bills in the upcoming legislative session.

One would allocate more higher education funding to BRAC-affected areas in hopes of expanding learning opportunities for those communities. The others would establish incentives for steering development near military bases to discourage sprawl and require developers to pay up front costs in lieu of property taxes so new infrastructure keeps pace with the growth.

‘‘We understand these responsibilities bring new challenges, but we also see the incredible opportunities of BRAC, opportunities that we have an obligation to expand and extend to more and more Marylanders,” Brown (D) said at a news conference where he submitted the state’s BRAC action plan to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

Beaver agreed, adding the county could see a positive impact of more investment in higher education, especially if the community college system is included in the plan.

Carroll Community College could provide additional training for the workforce that could relocate here, she said.

The county projects 408 new households as a result of BRAC, and 324 new jobs.

It is eyeing the Warfield Complex, located on Md. Route 32 in Sykesville, as a prime location for BRAC development. ‘‘We hope that BRAC does spur development there,” Beaver said.

Through BRAC, Maryland could gain up to 60,000 defense and military contract jobs, mostly at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort George G. Meade in Anne Arundel County. It is billed as the single largest job growth in the state since World War II and is expected to produce about 28,000 new households.

Fewer jobs will come to Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George’s, Fort Detrick in Frederick and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. Most jobs will come from Fort Monmouth in New Jersey and the Defense Information Systems Agency in Northern Virginia.

Beaver said she is not sure how the housing incentives could affect projections in Carroll County. ‘‘It’s hard to get those estimates down,” she said.

It could decrease, she said, adding that she had of programs that might be designed to lure people to Baltimore. Or some people might choose not to be a part of BRAC and retire instead, she said.

But don’t count out the county’s chance. ‘‘I think Carroll County has a great quality-of-life appeal,” she said. People who are relocating because of BRAC are calling the school system to see what the county could offer, she added.

The plan also outlines several steps to help accommodate new Marylanders, including putting one-stop employment transition centers at the New Jersey and Virginia installations. The state will look to relax employment certification restrictions for military spouses, invest more in science and technology education and institute a security clearance education program in the public school system.

Maryland was a big winner in the base realignment approved by Congress in 2005. Only Florida will gain more direct military jobs, according to Department of Defense figures. The expansion at Aberdeen and Meade could reap hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue for the state, but the short-term challenges are great.

Transportation represents the largest issue for Maryland, which already grapples with congested roads and overcrowded transit systems. The state has identified 26 road projects in BRAC regions that need improvement and has pledged to allocate $1.6 billion for them, along with a $1 billion investment in expanding the MARC commuter rail system.

The action plan outlines almost $800 million in new or upgraded infrastructure that needs to be funded next year alone. That includes more than $275 million apiece for public schools and transportation, and about $115 million each for water and sewer projects and higher education.

Despite all the challenges, O’Malley offered a sanguine outlook. ‘‘There are some other states where their citizens wake up every day and look at the thousands of the states that are leaving and in our state, we wake up and we read headlines about the thousands of jobs that are coming,” he said. ‘‘... All of us know that BRAC has afforded Maryland a tremendous opportunity not only in the expanded role of the defense of our nation, but it also gives us opportunities for economic growth, opportunities that we might not have anticipated would come as quickly as they are.”

The specialized bioterrorism and intelligence operations at Meade, Fort Detrick and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda make Maryland well prepared to prosper in the coming years, O’Malley said. ‘‘Maryland’s economy historically has surged ahead during times of our greatest national challenges.”