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Staff photo by REID SILVERMANGlen Ives, left, former commanding officer of Patuxent River Naval Air Station and now vice president of Sabre Systems in Lexington Park, talks with a job seeker during the JobZone Job Fair at the J.T. Daugherty Center earlier this month.
Uncle Sam wants you.
In an economic downturn marked by staggering unemployment across most sectors nationwide, there is a silver lining (and arguably, a saving grace) in Southern Maryland — Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
This year, the Navy base, which has flourished in recent years while other military bases have been downsized, will hire approximately 700 new employees. The contracted companies that support the base will hire several hundred more. The base and military contracting companies currently employ 22,500 people.
The hiring spree comes as the unemployment rate reached 8.5 percent nationwide, 7 percent statewide, and just under 6 percent in Southern Maryland, according to March data released by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Pax River "accounts for 80 percent of our economy. Without it … that is our economy," said Cynthia Dellagatta, economic development coordinator for the St. Mary's County Department of Economic and Community Development. "During the economic downturn, we've been able to sustain [ourselves] because of the base. There are jobs we have in the area."
Many of the base jobs require at least a bachelor's degree in a technical field such as engineering, physics and chemistry, said Graham Harlowe, director of corporate operations Naval Air Warfare Center, Aircraft Division, one of the installations at Pax River. Many other support jobs require only training and a good work ethic.
Harlowe said base recruiters hope to find in-demand talent locally but are willing to travel across the country to find what they're looking for. They've even honed a "robust" college recruiting program.
"It's an extremely technical workforce and that's our principal demand. We also have requirements for business-related specialties, business and financial management," Harlowe said.
The jobs are being created, not just in Southern Maryland but nationwide, by attrition from retiring baby boomers and mobile military employees. And major weapons systems are reaching a point in their life cycles that they demand a large amount of NAVAIR support, Harlowe said. The number of aircrafts coming in for testing and evaluation has increased as well.
There are at least three commands on the much smaller Naval Support Facility, South Potomac at Indian Head in Charles County that intend to fill about 153 positions this coming fiscal year, a Navy spokeswoman said. So far this year, 78 people have been hired. The Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head filled 150 positions last year.
The base currently employs more than 2,000.
The number of open positions "ebbs and flows depending on recruiting successes," Harlowe said. "We're trying to attract the best and brightest, wherever they are. If they're from the area, they know what they're getting into and they're more likely to stay."
At a recent JobZone job fair at the J.T. Daugherty Center in Lexington Park, more than 40 local and regional contractors and a few government agencies scouted talent for various positions at Pax and around the metropolitan area. About 1,000 job seekers showed up, said Janet Giles of JobZone. The positions typically require some relevant experience and active security clearances.
New college graduates Heather Rardin of Leonardtown and Krissy Parks of Germantown came out to the fair hoping to find a corporate position that would allow them to gain work experience.
"It was a recommendation by family … they said, work for the government. That's where the jobs are,'" Rardin said.
At a NAVAIR job fair in March, 1,000 job seekers came out and recruiters expected to hire between 50 and 100 of them.
"We are busier than ever recruiting and hiring people," said Colleen O'Hare, head recruiter for Ausley Associates, Inc. in Lexington Park, at the job fair. "It's an opportunity to get people who have been laid off into our company."
"We're always recruiting," said Mark Czarzasty, program manager for Amelex, a government contractor in California.
A recruiter for Honeywell Technology Solutions in Lexington Park, who asked not to be named because she didn't have proper authorization to speak to the media, said the company is seeing a lot of recently laid-off employees, including highly-qualified candidates with advanced degrees willing to take just about anything.
Cherryl Bradley of Mechanicsville works for Washington, D.C., public schools and came to the job fair to find an equally stable position closer to home.
"I'm looking for better job morale and stability," she said.
Lourdes Porter of Lexington Park, who is working on a contract that will end in July, has spent about two to three hours a night for the last two months looking for a new job.
"I am worried about it. I have a big family, five kids," she said.
The base isn't just focused on short-term filling of positions. They're recruiting for the long haul.
"At a younger school age level, we're doing a lot of work from fourth grade to middle school to inspire children to get excited about math and science," said Kathy Glockner, NAWCAD education outreach coordinator. "We instituted new summer programs by recruiting at high schools. We targeted students we were most likely to hire one day."
That includes involvement in area schools' science, technology, education and math academies and programs, and robotics competitions. Base officials are even working to help teachers write curriculums to correspond with future workforce needs.
"The kids are getting exposed to a lot of things. When you get to the high school level, it gets very rigorous. Research is new territory for the school systems. Seniors … we attract them to consider a future job here. After they're in college, our co-op education program kicks in," Glockner said. "Pax is the first Navy base in the entire system to seek partnerships with private schools."
The University of Maryland will begin offering an aerospace engineering degree program at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center, which will help fulfill a need at the base, Dellagatta said.
To learn more
The next JobZone job fair at Patuxent River will be held Tuesday, Aug. 25, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the J.T. Daugherty Center, 22111 Three Notch Road in Lexington Park.