Baltimore Hopes for a Halo Effect as the Federal Government Spends on Security

Give Baltimore credit for trying. All across the city – and across Maryland as well – technology professionals, business people and government officials are scrambling to keep and add as many high-tech jobs as possible. It’s been a challenge for the city given the tumultuous economy and the results have been mixed.

Chief among the efforts is a push dating back to January to market the city and state as a "cybersecurity hub" since major defense agencies and contractors such as Northrup Grumman and Oculis Labs are based in the city and state. Plus, the projected $7.9 billion the federal government will spend on information security this year makes this somewhat realistic. (Washington D.C. and Maryland already comprise the nation’s third largest IT market)

Some of that money is destined for the National Security Agency at Fort George C. Meade, where the government is concentrating much of its cybersecurity efforts. (a Dice site) says the Department of Defense has nearly 1,000 cybersecurity jobs across the state as of August. Skilled tech workers with a security clearance can expect average salaries of $94,398 in Maryland. Additionally, Maryland’s Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corp. received a $4.9 million grant to fill hundreds of cybersecurity jobs expected to open up in the region over the next several years. "We are the epicenter of cybersecurity in America," said Senator Barbara Mikulski at a news conference earlier this year.

At the same time, the state government’s Maryland Venture Fund is investing in small companies in startup mode. The Maryland Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO), along with more than a dozen other business incubators, also keep seed money flowing to tech startups in the state.

Overall, Maryland is the 13th-ranked "cyberstate" according to TechAmerica Foundation’s most recent Cyberstates report. The state managed to add 3,400 net jobs as the current recession got underway. The number of workers in computer systems and related services climbed to 64,900 in June 2010 – nearly 5,000 more jobs than in June 2009, according to federal statistics.

So the trend is heading in the right direction for Maryland. Tom Brandt, CFO of TeleCommunication Systems, Inc. based in Annapolis, Maryland told Cyberstates that, "While more recent 2009 national data show that even the tech industry is now experiencing significant job losses, Maryland’s tech industry may be better positioned to weather the storm as it taps into federal stimulus dollars that invest in technology infrastructure."

Interestingly, the current numbers at Dice aren’t quite as optimistic. While Baltimore job listings are up 3.2 percent month to month in the most recent Dice figures (there are a total of 1,484 jobs posted), that total is actually down 3.3 percent year to year. This is one of the worst performances of all the metropolitan areas Dice tracks. Luckily, salaries buck that trend. The Dice Salary Survey pegs the average salary at $89,014, up 4.3 percent over last year. (Baltimore’s overall unemployment rate is at 7.4 percent, much better than the current national average of 9.6 percent.)

"Skill sets that are in highest demand for 2010 are all levels of front end and back end Java development as well as SharePoint development and administration. These skill sets have been in demand since the end of 2009 and have increased dramatically over the past six months," says Bridgette Duhl, Branch Manager of IT recruiter Sapphire Technologies’ Rockville, Md., office.

Manpower, a large recruiter, reports that between July and September, 17 percent of companies surveyed in the Baltimore area (across all industries) expected to hire at a respectable pace. That’s up from 10 percent in the second quarter of this year and 12 percent from the period a year ago. Manpower says the tech and government sectors in the area aren’t planning to do much of that hiring. However, this didn’t make much sense to one local business reporter, who said he’d been hearing about a "slew of hirings" expected for the upcoming Base Realignment and Closure Act, as well as cybersecurity positions.

Saphhire’s Duhl also sees that uptick in security postings. "Overall, the IT market has increasingly been picking up since the beginning of 2010," Duhl said. "The first quarter proved to be the slowest time for IT, but contracting and permanent work have picked up dramatically during the year."

–Don Willmott