As part of the Greater Baltimore region, Harford County, Maryland enjoys a strategic position on I-95 in the centrally located Mid-Atlantic region, along the Chesapeake Bay. This ideal location combines with a business friendly environment, skilled workforce, and quality of life to create a winning destination for both work and play.
Defense has long been foundational to Harford County’s economy. With 98 years of history under its belt, Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) has grown to cover 72,000 acres and has become one of the most diversified military installations in the United States. “Aberdeen Proving Ground is Harford County’s largest employer and it is the third largest workforce center in the state of Maryland by population,” says Karen Holt, Director of the Harford County Office of Economic Development. Considered a “megabase,” APG’s operations touch almost every aspect of U.S. military operations. Traditionally a test and evaluation facility for the Army, as well as home to Ordnance troops, APG has evolved into a hub for research, development, test, and evaluation activity for the joint services, and now reflects a 97 percent civilian workforce.
APG’s presence has made Harford County a center for science and technology, creating a range of opportunities that span multiple sectors. “It features a lot of opportunity in terms of government, industry, and academic collaboration,” Ms. Holt explains. Commercialization of APG’s emerging technologies has had a positive impact throughout the region, helping the local economy diversify significantly.
Currently, about half of the county’s economy is based on the defense industry, while the other half strongly features the industrial and manufacturing sectors. Additive manufacturing has gained a particularly strong foothold due to the leading edge research taking place at APG, which tends to be far ahead of the pack. “Within manufacturing, one of our biggest emerging technologies is additive manufacturing, also called 3D printing. We have some pioneering technologies here at Aberdeen Proving Ground and at our federal labs, particularly the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center’s (ECBC) Rapid Technologies Lab. 3D printing is very hot topic right now, but it was actually being utilized in the 80s at ECBC.”
Last year, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law that created the Northeastern Maryland Additive Manufacturing Innovation Authority, now called RAMP MD for Regional Additive Manufacturing Partnerships of Maryland, which will give Harford County businesses a boost by increasing their use of additive manufacturing. “[RAMP MD] oversees opportunities to leverage the technology from the federal installation to support area manufacturers and help them prototype and get their product to market faster,” Ms. Holt explains.
A science and tech focused community needs highly skilled employees, so Harford County is working hard to ensure that there continues to be a pool of top-notch talent available. “There is a very strong STEM initiative in our community. The collaboration with government, industry, and education is very focused on developing tomorrow’s workers, so you will see a very integrated effort in our community.” Opportunities for local youths interested in STEM include tech-focused Boy Scout programs, a local robotics team at the Boys and Girls Club, and summer mathematics camps. “We have a very concerted effort across all sectors to develop that future workforce for tomorrow.”
Harford County also works hard to support new or incoming businesses. Several programs are available to help startups thrive and grow. Harford’s Business Edge brings leading business development partners together to support local entrepreneurs. Members enjoy access to seminars, networking events, training courses and funding programs designed to help get a new business idea up and running. The GROUNDFLOOR at Harford is a community driven workspace and collaboration center for technology entrepreneurs, freelance developers, and startups. The co-working environment is intended to foster technology development, entrepreneurial activities, and creative thinking as members work together and forge new relationships, as well as new business ventures. The Harford Business Innovation Center (HBIC) helps young technology companies and growth-oriented defense contractors take advantage of opportunities at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
These programs share an office space with the Harford County Office of Economic Development, which just moved from the county administration building to a shopping center on the busy Route 40 corridor. The move puts these programs and Economic Development resources within easy reach of the surrounding community. “We are co-located with other businesses in the community,” Ms. Holt points out. “It sends a strong message about our accessibility and willingness to go to the business community.”
Harford County’s tourism program has also gotten a fresh start. Local tourism efforts used to be handled by the Office of Economic Development, but the community recently privatized these operations, launching the nonprofit Visit Harford. A new hotel tax has boosted funding, giving tourist operations a chance to shine. “There is a competitive grant application process that allows nonprofits – museums, heritage centers, tourism entities – to competitively apply for that money. It is a larger pot of money than could have been sustained through a county budget, and it will continue to grow.” This new hotel tax has allowed Visit Harford to “look at national and regional marketing strategies and offer a more stable opportunity to support the operations of a lot of these nonprofits that help support the quality of life and showcase Harford County as a premier tourism destination.”
Harford County boasts an eclectic range of tourist destinations – many of which are free to the public. Located on the beautiful shores of the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River, historical Havre de Grace offers a number of quaint maritime attractions. Visitors can stroll the town’s waterfront boardwalk and climb Concord Point Lighthouse, one of the oldest lighthouses on the East Coast. A nearby cannon reminds tourists of when John O’Neill singlehandedly defended the town from the invading British during the War of 1812. Vastly outnumbered, O’Neill survived and went on to enjoy a lifelong career as the lighthouse keeper. His home, located across the street from the lighthouse, is open for tours. A few doors down, the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum showcases the region’s unique heritage, while the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum displays over 1,200 duck decoys and decorative carvings, giving a close-up view of a unique American folk art. Havre de Grace’s historic downtown offers a range of retail opportunities, from antique shopping to homemade ice cream, as well as waterfront dining.
The surrounding Chesapeake Bay provides a range of activities, from crabbing and boating to fishing and kayaking. Harford County is not limited to warm weather activities, however. “Being close to the water is certainly a draw for many people – there are boating opportunities and events that highlight summer – but you will see a whole calendar of activities year round.”
Harford County attracts a range of residents, and the community is particularly well suited to families. “Baltimore is a more urban environment and we find that young people tend to migrate there after college. But when they meet someone, settle down and start a family, they start looking for schools, quality of life, and family opportunity. [That is when] people start looking to Harford County.” A range of housing opportunities, from single-family homes to townhomes and condos, are ready for newcomers – and the county has the employment opportunities that young families need. “We appeal to a broad spectrum – Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers – but we do recognize that we hold a unique place for the Millennials once they are ready to start a family and settle down in a professional work environment.”
Keeping in mind what Millennials want in a community, the County has been sure to provide residents with plenty of green space, walking trails, parks, marinas, and playgrounds along with industrial parks and new developments. “In Harford county, we can support IT and business needs while still having a nice balance of parkland and the natural amenities that families look for,” Ms. Holt shares.
Harford County’s three municipalities – Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace – enjoy a strong community spirit. “I would encourage anyone who is interested in Harford County to see it for yourself. What you will recognize is a very integrated community; a sense of collaboration is very apparent. There is plenty to get involved with; there is something here for everyone.”
Indeed, this Chesapeake Bay county seems to have it all, from waterfront attractions to employment opportunities in the most exciting tech sectors. Furthermore, a diverse economy ensures that local jobs are here to stay. “We have a strong agricultural history in our community that still balances nicely with the growth that we are seeing with industrial manufacturing and defense,” Ms. Holt remarks. “Harford County is really Maryland’s new center of opportunity.”