When Jobs Move Away

By Dina ElBoghdady
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 7, 2005

New Jersey resident John Kosinski knows this much about Maryland's Harford County, home to the Aberdeen Proving Ground: It's got the Chesapeake Bay. He prefers the Jersey Shore. It's got one synagogue. His county has about 20. And it's in a state with an official song that derides its neighbors as "Northern scum."

It's also where his job is going under the Pentagon's military base realignment plan, which becomes official tomorrow. To consolidate military installations and save money, as many as 4,000 high-tech jobs, mostly from Northern Virginia, will move to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, and 5,000 from New Jersey will move to Aberdeen. The big question now is how many job-holders will follow those jobs. Most of them are civilians who do not have to go where the military sends them.

Kosinski, for one, may quit first.

"I'm not trying to denigrate Maryland, not at all," said Kosinski, 47, an electronics engineer at Fort Monmouth. "But everybody has a comfort zone when it comes to where they live. And we're being asked to go really far outside of our comfort zone. There are demographic and cultural factors to consider."

Just as Kosinski pauses to cross the Mason-Dixon line, some Northern Virginians hesitate to cross the Potomac River, setting off a new set of personal and professional struggles now that the political battle over what bases to close is over. Military and local officials in Maryland want to persuade Kosinski and other technically skilled, security-cleared employees to move rather than have to search for hundreds of workers to replace them in a tight labor market.

But other communities don't want them to go. In Virginia, Arlington County is not eager to give up 922 workers at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which is moving its headquarters to Fort Meade from Arlington. County officials want to prevail on the scientists and engineers to stay home and look for new jobs instead of moving.

"These are blue-chip people," said Terry Holzheimer, director of Arlington Economic Development. "We will find them another job in our community. We want to make sure that [the agency's] attrition rate is as high as we can get it."

The Defense Information Systems Agency declined to reveal the results of an internal survey that indicates how many of its workers plan to move to Fort Meade. But in a Harris Interactive poll commissioned by the state of New Jersey this summer, less than 20 percent of the Fort Monmouth workers said they definitely would move to Aberdeen.

Maryland officials say they are not worried because the state has a highly skilled workforce that's growing all the time, a steady flow of graduates from world-renowned schools such as Johns Hopkins University, and relationships with some of the world's largest defense contractors such as Northrop Grumman Corp., one of the state's largest private employers.

"What we are hoping is that as many people as possible move out to Maryland and become Maryland taxpayers," said J. Michael Hayes, Maryland's director of military affairs. "But we are prepared for any scenario."

Besides, Maryland officials say, time is on their side. The jobs should transfer to Maryland gradually over the next five years or so, giving people ample opportunity to sort out their personal lives and find out about Maryland's housing markets and school systems.

"It takes time for people to come to grips with what they really want to do, and quality of life issues always drive these personal decisions," Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens said. "Many people have no idea where we are right now. They think we're out in the boondocks or something."

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company