The Pentagon's 2005 realignment of military bases brought more than 60,000 direct and indirect jobs to Maryland and, with them, billions in new economic opportunity.
But while some in the business community were ready to take full advantage of new partnerships with nearby bases, others have struggled to get up to speed — even as more base realignments are slated in the next few years.
Maryland's military facilities contributed $36 billion to the state's economy, or 7.5 percent of its total activity, in 2008, according to the most recent comprehensive study that the state released in 2010.
“Only in the last few years has there been an adequate focus placed on how important it is to nurture the economic development potential for hosting these installations,” said M.H. Jim Estepp, president and CEO of the Greater Prince George's Business Roundtable and the Andrews Business & Community Alliance.
“The local community should benefit to the extent that anyone else benefits,” he said.
The responsibility for ensuring these relationships continue to be a two-way street falls to both the bases and their respective civilian alliances.
“We work closely with the local and county government so that the counties can reach out to business leaders to help them navigate the federal system,” said Mary Doyle, spokeswoman for Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.
Fort Meade — home of 95 agencies, including the National Security Agency — generates half of the military's economic impact in Maryland, Doyle said.
Fort Meade gained 5,800 military and civilian personnel through the base realignment and closure program, bringing its total to 56,000. The base contracted $6.6 billion in goods and services in the state in fiscal 2009, Doyle said.
Meade's chief partner in reaching the business community is the Fort Meade Alliance, which comprises 310 members, mostly businesspeople.
The alliance played a critical role in supporting Fort Meade during the 2005 BRAC and even took groups of businesses to the areas from which new Meade personnel would be relocating to allow initial introductions and networking, said Rosemary Budd, president of the alliance. Her alliance also pushed to bring the U.S. Cyber Command to Meade instead of San Antonio, which had also made a pitch.
Budd said the alliance, which represents the community in addition to businesses, maintains a one-on-one relationship with Meade's garrison commanders, who usually serve two years. Although the alliance has to quickly establish a rapport before the commander moves on, it also builds more sustained relationships with the rest of the military staff.
“The transitions are easier due to the partnerships,” Doyle said.
The alliance and Meade have worked together on several mutually beneficial projects, including a comprehensive list of businesses that support the military. Businesses likewise have taken up sponsorships for base recreational activities, as Meade's main funding for these dries up with the closure of its golf courses, Budd said. The alliance also spent $135,000 outfitting Meade's Soldier Family and Assistance Center, including a playground that was built in one day.
Estepp's Joint Base Andrews alliance has had a rougher road, missing most of the BRAC round, as it started in 2004.
Andrews alliance catches up
“We almost lost out,” Estepp said, referring to the Camp Springs base getting a smaller BRAC boost than other Maryland bases. “We should have had a better outcome for Andrews from our federal representatives.”
Although Andrews recently gained about 3,000 new personnel, most came from the relocation of the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region, which provides homeland security and defense for the Greater Washington, D.C. area, rather than through BRAC. Andrews contracted $32.8 million in the state in fiscal 2011, including $12.5 million in Prince George's County, according to Andrews information.
Estepp has worked to build the alliance since 2004, modeling it after the alliance for Naval Air Station Patuxent River, he said. Its goal is to provide education to its 100 members and provide access to decision-makers to teach businesses how to “secure a piece of the economic pie” through federal procurement.
Besides holding two business conferences annually to link small contractors with prime contractors, Andrews reaches out to the business community through its honorary commander and ambassador programs. The programs expose businesses to Andrews' leadership and show them how the system works so they can explain it to others.
Carol Donohue of Printcomm Partners in Edgewater is honorary commander of the 1st Helicopter Squadron.
“The relationships gained is the biggest thing,” Donohue said. “You go to award banquets and events. You get to know them all on a first-name basis.”
Printcomm provides emergency print jobs for Andrews, although Donohue said the work is small and not the main benefit of her position.
If not for the alliance, she said, she would be in the dark about federal contracting.
The commander and ambassador programs help mitigate the impact of frequent official commander transitions, which can be as often as every 18 months, Estepp said.
The alliance is losing its two-year ally, Col. Kenneth Rizer, commander of the 11th Wing, to retirement this spring.
“There's no question we're going to miss him,” Estepp said, as Rizer has played a critical role in increasing local contracting at Andrews. Contracting to Prince George's businesses climbed 60.3 percent since 2010.
In turn, the alliance has helped Andrews secure its Imagine Andrews Public Charter School. The school, comprising 65 percent on-base students and 35 percent from elsewhere in Prince George's, is an “Air Force success story” and will help draw people to the county and keep them there, Estepp said.
Business leaders also are hoping to benefit from Andrews' transformation of its West Gate into a pedestrian walkway so its personnel easily can reach nearby businesses.
The alliance already is preparing for the next BRAC rounds, which are proposed for 2013 and 2015.
“It's always a sales job,” Estepp said, referring to how bases and their allies must demonstrate why their location is best suited to meet the nation's needs. “A great deal depends on how much the elected officials buy into it. Here, in Prince George's, they get it.”
‘BRAC brought the community together'
Over in Bethesda, BRAC initiated a whole new relationship between the business community and the Walter Reed National Medical Center, formerly the National Naval Medical Center.
“Once BRAC began, we saw them once a month,” said Ginanne Italiano, president and CEO of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. “BRAC brought the community together. We're all working on the same team when it used to be citizens versus business.”
The Bethesda hospital gained 2,500 personnel, as it merged operations with Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center, bringing its total to 10,500.
Although contracting opportunities are limited at Walter Reed, the chamber hosts training sessions on how to do business with the hospital and work with wounded military personnel, Italiano said.
The 650-member chamber partners with Walter Reed to develop a list of local businesses offering military discounts and to push for transportation improvements.
Italiano's chamber also is part of a national pilot program to help wounded veterans find jobs in their hometowns upon discharge from the hospital. The program will start its first interviews in May, she said.
As for command changeovers, Italiano said it is not different from regular business relationships, which experience frequent staff changes nowadays.
Success stories at Detrick
Fort Detrick in Frederick connects with businesses through its business development office, operated by Beacon Associates of Lanham.
The office hosts webinars and courses on contracting with the base and other primes, as well as partners with business events to get the word out, said Christine Demas, director of the office.
Its efforts have led to several success stories, including that of Monocacy Automotive, she said. The company came to the office two years ago with no knowledge of federal contracting and recently secured a contract with SAIC-Frederick, which conducts research in cancer and AIDS and maintains advanced technologies to support new treatments.
Detrick experienced limited BRAC impact, adding 200 personnel to its 11,000. The base contracted $600 million with Maryland businesses in fiscal 2009.
“We understand it's important to connect to the local business community, but our first concern is the mission,” Demas said. “We don't care where the services come from if they're the best to fulfill the mission. After that, our concern is local. The people who work at the base also live here.”