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Jay Young

The BRAC Bonanza -- Time to Take Off the Brakes

Harford Business Ledger: January 2006

We have all seen recent television reports and have read regional and local newspaper articles on BRAC, but most of us have not considered what BRAC really means. The acronym "BRAC" stands for Base Realignment and Closure Commission. This Commission is charged with responsibility for reviewing all United States military operations and determining where those operations might be consolidated, streamlined, combined, relocated or closed.

Six or seven short years ago, BRAC was a dirty word in Harford County, because at that time it appeared that the Aberdeen Proving Ground would be a victim of BRAC, not its beneficiary. APG had already down-sized dramatically, losing hundreds (if not thousands) of jobs compared to the halcyon days of the facility's height of operations.

In response to this, our federal, state and local elected officials and government personnel undertook massive efforts aimed at stopping the bleeding. Innovative ventures were undertaken to attempt a privatization of portions of the Proving Ground; attempts were made to foster some type of commercial or industrial development to keep as many jobs in the County as possible. Although these endeavors were valiant, they met with limited success while generating great controversy (for example, the reuse of Phillips Airfield on APG was hotly debated and contested). No matter how hard everyone worked, the reality was that no real magnet existed to attract potential employers to Harford County.

All that changed on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in northern Virginia dramatically changed the outlook of our government, and especially that of our military. BRAC continued, but its focus had changed. National defense, homeland security and counter-terrorism moved up the list to number one in priority. Similar priority shifts also occurred in private industry; for instance, financial institutions now recognized the need for total redundancy in all operations. Corporate policy embraced the goal of making sure that if a headquarters building disappeared one day, a seamless flow of data and operations would continue, thanks to purposefully redundant back-up facilities. Prior to 9-11, few corporate policies had included that type of contingency plan!

As part of this shift of priorities, BRAC began to reconsider the viability of Aberdeen Proving Ground. For instance, APG's proximity to Washington, D.C., was a real advantage. It's close, but not too close. The APG federal facility comprises 72,000 acres; true, it's half water, but 72,000 acres is an enormous expanse! APG contains a secure airfield sometimes used for "touch and goes" for Air Force One, and already hosts other exercises that can only be conducted in the most secure of environments.

After thinking it over, BRAC identified Aberdeen as an ideal location for the relocation and the establishment of new facilities for homeland security, national defense and counter-terrorism. Federal legislation mandates that BRAC's recommendations be implemented within a 6-year time frame, and so, thanks to BRAC, there are currently on the books three BILLION dollars worth of new construction slated to occur on the Post in the next three to six years -- building as much as three MILLION new square feet!

In order to comprehend the full impact of BRAC, you must understand that every government job moved to APG or created there could result in an exponential number of other jobs created in private industries that directly serve APG, including defense contractors, consultants and support positions. Plus, as the population grows, so grows the service industry as well. On-post civilian employment is projected to increase from 6,900 to 20,000 in the government and private sector, all in addition to active military jobs. As a result of all that construction and employment, current conservative projections indicate annual expenditures of ten billion dollars in APG research and development projects alone! All of this is the result of BRAC recommendations.

And more governmental and non-governmental projects are planned. For example, a 1200-acre site in Edgewood will become a global law enforcement training center, to serve as an education and training campus for forensic accounting, counter-cyber terrorism, defensive driving training and other similar newly created specialty areas. It seems that the number of applications of APG work are exploding (no pun intended), and the benefits to Harford will be enormous.

No article discussing BRAC should be written without acknowledging the dedicated efforts of our federal, state and local elected and government officials. They deserve high praise. Major effort, work and influence were exerted on all levels in order to bring about this amazing development. Locally, former County Executive Jim Harkins deserves great credit, and new County Executive David Craig jumped in while the flames were the hottest.

But perhaps the greatest credit for Harford's BRAC bonanza goes to the staff of the Harford County Department of Economic Development and its Executive Director, J. Thomas Sadowski. While the events of 9/11 changed the course of direction of the BRAC commission, its new destination was not predetermined: steering it to Harford County was a formidable task. A tremendous amount of time, energy and effort was expended by Tom Sadowski personally, and was matched by that of his dedicated staff. It's easy to find examples: it is rare, for instance, for a local county Economic Development Director to be called upon to testify on matters of vital national importance before a committee appointed by the President and approved by the US Congress -- but Tom Sadowski was, and did, and this County reaped the benefit.

We also cannot forget that much of our good fortune has come at the expense of less fortunate jurisdictions and municipalities from which these jobs will be transferred, and that our local officials were involved here, too. The "losing" jurisdictions fought hard against BRAC recommendations; they were forced to criticize Harford County in order to promote their own causes. Tom Sadowski had to anticipate those criticisms, no matter from what direction they came, and provide answers. The stakes were high and the pressure intense, but Tom Sadowski and his staff met the challenge.

All in all, a grateful county owes Tom Sadowski and his staff much thanks.

Now that you know a little more about what BRAC really means, you should consider the implications of economic expansion in a personal business sense. What chances exist for your business to benefit and profit from this development? What tremendous opportunities present themselves to the local business community?

BRAC is a reality -- we should all consider carefully and plan accordingly.

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