Choosing where to move: BRAC edition
Harford County figures it's bused 1,000 people down from New Jersey over the past two years to tour its communities. Cecil County has had bus tours of its own, plus one economic development employee there has -- by her count -- conducted 76 individual tours by car, van and truck just this year. Baltimore County organized a bus tour in May for about 70 people. And last weekend, Live Baltimore gave 33 folks a two-day "consider the city" pitch.
Relocating here for BRAC? You are in demand, in case you hadn't noticed.
The national base realignment and closure process is sending thousands of jobs to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County. Because Fort Meade's jobs are largely coming from nearby Northern Virginia, the "won't you be my neighbor" action is focused on Fort Monmouth workers whose jobs are headed from New Jersey to APG.
I tagged along on Live Baltimore's BRAC tour on Sunday -- you can read the story about it here -- and it was interesting to see the city through the eyes of Fort Monmouth workers. The chatter ranged from property taxes to neighborhood comparisons -- Homeland reminded one worker of Princeton -- to "The Wire," the critically acclaimed HBO drama that isn't exactly an advertisement for Baltimore's quality of life.
Live Baltimore's talking points included this on the subject of television: "Although many people stereotype Baltimore by the storylines they see on HBO's 'The Wire,' it is a work of fiction. Baltimore is not unlike many metropolitan cities where drugs are to blame for much of the crime problem."
The nonprofit group has all the upsides of a sizable city to help make its case for Baltimore living -- museums, sports teams, walkable neighborhoods, funky stores and the like. But staffers have their work cut out for them in the BRAC competition.
Jim Richardson, director of economic development in Harford County, said his office's study of early movers shows about 80 percent of them living in Harford. Even considering that many early movers are higher-level managers who need to live near the post, that's a big number.
And Cecil County, the rural exurb to the north, seems to be getting a close look from prospective movers. Its two bus tours -- last May and November -- were packed. Erika Quesenbery, marketing coordinator for the Office of Economic Development there, says she's done 76 tours since January for people who drove down from New Jersey on their own.
Easter weekend alone, "we had 14 different couples that came in." She had to enlist her husband and parents to help. Other community members are giving tours, too -- too many for Quesenbery to keep track of them all.
"I'm very attuned now to seeing New Jersey license plates," she said.
It's not just home sales and tax dollars at stake. Counties want Fort Monmouth personnel for their brains. In the "knowledge economy" that everyone talks about, highly trained workers are a boon.
Harford County, as it happens, offers the reverse of Live Baltimore's "we're only 30 minutes from APG" argument:
"Certainly we use Baltimore City as a drawing point, that you can be 30 minutes from downtown," Richardson said.
I know some of you are skeptical that BRAC workers will opt for city living over suburb. But Baltimore already has some BRAC folks, despite the competition.
Eric Pilsmaker, 27, moved to Baltimore from Pittsburgh after taking a BRAC analyst job with a consulting firm.
"I asked colleagues ... where they lived, and they both lived in Baltimore," he said. "I figured for a young guy like me, I'm not interested in living out in Harford County. Baltimore's a really attractive option."
Are you a BRAC mover? A local resident seeing BRAC activity? Share your experiences.