Increased funding and personnel transfers have spurred steady growth in the U.S. Navy’s main activity at Naval Support Facility Indian Head and are expected to lead to more contractor jobs and partnerships in the near future, local business leaders were told last week.
“I am so excited about what’s going on,” Amy O’Donnell, the deputy technical director for the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division, told members of the Charles County Chamber of Commerce Military Alliance Council during the MAC’s quarterly meeting last Wednesday. “Over the last ... four years, there has been a steady increase in the funds coming into the base. And that steady increase in funds has raised our contracting levels.”
O’Donnell said that the division currently employs nearly 2,300 civilians, a net increase of nearly 500 in the last four years. In the current fiscal year, the division has hired 288 people and is in the process of hiring another 195. A hundred of those new hires were applicants at a job fair in June at the College of Southern Maryland.
Additional growth is coming from relocations and consolidations of military activities, O’Donnell said. A second wave of 42 personnel from the Chemical Biological Radiological Defense Division at Naval Support Facility Dahlgren will be relocating to Indian Head in January, following the transfer of over 150 scientists and researchers from Dahlgren last year.
In addition, next spring the Navy’s Expeditionary Exploitation Unit 1 will transfer from its current location at Naval Base Stump Neck Annex to the Indian Head base, bringing 50 active-duty personnel, 26 civilians and over 50 contractors with it.
“So you can see that we’re growing like gangbusters,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said that because of the rapid growth, a dependence on partnerships with the county school system and CSM “have become even more important for our execution ... in terms of our workforce development, business, industry [and] contracting.”
To manage educational outreach, the EOD Division recently added positions for a “chief learning officer” and a dedicated science, technology, engineering and mathematics coordinator.
“We need scientific, business oriented people,” O’Donnell said. “I’m already identifying kindergartners to work for us in, you know, 20 years,” she added with a chuckle.
On Friday, the division signed an educational partnership agreement with Charles County Public Schools at the division’s booth at the Charles County Fair that formally recognizes the existing relationship between the two agencies.
According to a Navy press release, the agreement provides school system students with “access to U.S. Navy technology and materials deemed to be surplus, in addition to advice and mentorship from command personnel.” In turn, CCPS will open up its facilities to the EOD Division and allow the division to “assist in the CCPS educational curriculum.”
The division also recently signed an interim partnership agreement with the College of Southern Maryland and has already booked space at the college’s new Velocity Center, which is scheduled to open early next year.
“I hope no one else is planning on using the Velocity Center,” O’Donnell joked. “I’ve already booked it four times and we haven’t even cut the ribbon.”
O’Donnell detailed several facility expansion initiatives that are currently underway, noting that while it has been proving to be a challenge to fit everyone on the base, “it’s a problem I love having.” That problem is only likely to increase as the Navy seeks to expand its research into energetics — chemical propellants and explosives — centered on Indian Head, she said.
“We’ve got our challenges, but now it’s on the surge, renewal and growth,” O’Donnell said.
During Wednesday’s MAC meeting, Lisa Swoboda, senior director of the office of military and federal affairs in the Maryland Department of Commerce, noted that between the 2008 and 2016 fiscal years, the economic output at NSF Indian Head increased from $548.7 million to $874.5 million, with over 1,100 new jobs being added in that time. Much of that growth, she said, occurred after 2012.
“I think that you’re going to see this number continue to grow as the [U.S. Department of Defense] budget increases as well, and [with] the expenditures on the R&D side of the house in the DOD budget,” Swoboda said. “A very good-news story.”