The business of homeland securityThe continuing development of Fort Detrick offers business opportunities

Published 17 December 2008

In some places there is a debate about the balance between the business opportunities and risks that the presence of a BioLab facility offers; in Washington County, Maryland, they concentrate on the business opportunities the sprawling — and growing — Fort Detrick (it covers 1,127 acres and employs more than 8,000 people) offers

We typically hear of places where a biolab is located, or about to be located, because biolabs typically divide the population into two camps: those who see the economic boon to the local economy from a major research facility, and those who worry about the accidental release of deadly pathogens. Washington County’s economy has one it needs in Col. Judith Robinson, the U.S. Army garrison commander at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, where research is done into the deadliest of germs which terrorists might use in a bioterror attack, says that she wants “to become much more engaged with Washington County” about these issues. Such conversation  would come at a time when the Army post has begun offering businesses the chance to bid on nearly $1 billion in contracts, leading to thousands of well-paying biotech support and construction jobs in Frederick and beyond. Arnold Platou writes in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail that the base also wants to partner with local schools to improve Washington County’s science curriculum.

Robinson said that as Detrick’s needs grow, Washington County is one of the key places for the fort to look for businesses that can help meet its needs. Local business leaders agree, and Robin Feree, deputy director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, said that “The expansions at Fort Detrick represent business potential to local businesses.”

Fort Detrick, a U.S. Army Medical Command installation, covers 1,127 acres (68 acres are owned by the National Cancer Institute, which is ringed by the fort) right inside Frederick city. There are 8,100 employees, including hundreds of scientists and about 1,300 military personnel, working for more than 40 government agencies. Most of them do medical research, while some are in strategic satellite communications and other military support functions.

Currently, four U.S. cabinet departments have employees at Detrick:

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is represented by two agencies, including the National Cancer Institute, which has about 3,000 employees working in about 100 buildings at Detrick.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has several agencies at the post. They include the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, which together have 2,300 employees at Detrick.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (DoA) employs about 50 workers at the Agricultural Research Service’s Foreign Disease Weed Science Research Unit. In its Biological Safety Level 3 laboratories, it studies foreign crop diseases.
  • DHS recently dedicated its National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center at Detrick. When the center opens next spring, its 140 scientists and technicians are to give the government new tools for predicting biological attacks and identifying those who commit bio-terror incidents and other so-called bio-crimes.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs plans to build a Veterans Administration clinic at Detrick next year. Detrick spokesman Chuck Gordon said he doesn’t know how many employees it will have.

Robinson says much more is coming. “By the middle fall of 2009, I expect to have construction of or expansion of about seven buildings going on all at the same time,” she said. “I anticipate by the end of next summer, I will have 2,000 to 2,500 construction workers on base every day, with 2,000 cars.” When the agencies move into the new buildings, they will be hiring about 1,425 people, she said. If Maryland economic development officials are correct, the additional facilities will need supplies and contract help from private companies, leading to “3,500 additional support jobs that are needed outside the base,” she said.

If you are a business owner interested in exploring the possibility of contracting for some of the $1 billion budgeted for Detrick development, here are some key contacts: