BRAC boom at Andrews may have lesser impact in Prince George's

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 10, 2010; 10:12 PM

The federal base realignment and closing plan will transfer thousands of new employees to Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County, but the jobs are unlikely to result in the kind of economic boom that will take place near other military installations across the Washington region, including Fort Meade.

"This is one of the things that no one is talking about," said David Byrd, deputy chief administrative officer for economic development for Prince George's.

Andrews, which is home to more than 20,000 civilian and active-duty military personnel and families, will gain 400 new jobs from BRAC and an additional 2,600 jobs as a result of the Air Force and Air National Guard moving part of their headquarters from Virginia. The number of BRAC and non-BRAC employees at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County will increase by 20,000.

Andrews will become Prince George's largest employer over the next decade, but county officials say they cannot speculate on whether the increase in jobs will have a significant impact on the county's economy. Many of the new employees may not move to the county, and all of the jobs will be on the base, said Byrd, the county's BRAC liaison.

Currently, the University of Maryland at College Park is the county's largest employer.

"The problem is, while we will get an influx of jobs coming here, they are inside the gate," Byrd said. "The impact that these folks will have on Prince George's economy is questionable. If they are going to live and move here, that's additional home-buying, but if they are just going to commute from Northern Virginia and go home to Northern Virginia, the impact is questionable."

Eric Sharman, a spokesman for Andrews, said he anticipates traffic to "increase significantly" as workers commute from Virginia. He said he is uncertain whether workers will move to the county. "That is up to the individual to decide," he said.

But Sharman said local businesses should benefit.

"If you work in that building, you have to take your dry cleaning somewhere; you have to eat lunch somewhere," he said. "It's going to create a sense of community."

$1 billion impact

Andrews is an operational facility that hosts Air Force One and flights for other statesmen and dignitaries, receives wounded soldiers and provides other functions for the Air Force.

Fort Meade, home of the fourth-largest workforce among Army installations, has a research and development component. The base is home to a number of federal agencies and military services, including the National Security Agency, the Defense Information School and the Asymmetric Warfare Group. Fort Meade also will become home to the U.S. Cyber Command, a new unit that will focus on cyber security.

"The contract and procurement generated from Andrews doesn't create the dollar volume, nor the types of jobs - the high-tech, high-paying science-tech jobs - as do Fort Meade, Aberdeen Proving Ground and on a smaller scale Fort Detrick," said Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), chairman of the governor's subcabinet on BRAC. "So as a result, it's not the economic engine that some of the other military installations are.

"It doesn't mean that it's not a significant employer or that Andrews doesn't add value to the surrounding Prince George's community. It does. It just doesn't generate the same dollar of local economic development."

Of the state's 17 military facilities, the economic impact of Andrews ranked in the bottom 10, according to a recent study commissioned by the state and prepared by the Jacob France Institute of the Merrick School of Business at the University of Baltimore.

Andrews generates a little more than $1 billion in economic activity in Maryland and creates or supports about 12,500 jobs, according to the report for the Department of Business and Economic Development and the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Fort Meade pours $17.8 billion into the state's economy and has created or supported more than 125,700 jobs, the report says.

A spillover effect

Jim Estepp, president and chief executive officer of the Andrews Business and Community Alliance, said he is optimistic that the new employment at Andrews will have a spillover effect on the surrounding community - beyond the traffic congestion that it is expected to bring.

Last month, state officials announced $6.5 million in state and federal funding to pay for improvements to Allentown Road at the Interstate 495 North off-ramp, Allentown at Suitland Parkway and Westover Road, and I-495 and Forestville Road.

A 2007 report by Prince George's said the new positions at Andrews would lead to more than 13,000 jobs and 10,000 housing units in the county by 2020.

Byrd said those estimates were made with an assumption that workers would move to the county and that some contractors would work off base.

The state is offering $2,500 in down-payment and closing-cost assistance to qualified federal civilian and military employees who buy a home in Maryland as a result of BRAC.

"We encourage that the employees live in Maryland," Brown said. "It would be good for tax revenue, there would be less congestion on the roadways, and it would develop a greater sense of community."

Andrews also has increased its local small-business participation for contracts in the county. Air Force acquisition rules require 43 percent; Andrews will require 50 percent, Sharman said.

Prince George's, which has been grappling with budget shortfalls for the past couple of years, needs a way to plug its budget gap and could use the revenue that businesses and residents would generate. This week, County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) said Prince George's is facing a $50 million budget gap because of rising health-care, pension and other costs.

The county has asked federal officials and its congressional delegation to loosen a requirement that some of the contractors work on Andrews, Byrd said.

"We need to. . . add to the county tax base," he said.

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