The east coast, particularly the metro Washington, D.C. area, is currently the number one spot in the nation for jobs in the defense industry. The region is a broad one, spanning north from D.C. to Bethesda and the Maryland suburbs, over to Northern Virginia and as far south as Richmond.
This corridor is a prime place for security cleared job seekers for two reasons. First, it is home to the nation’s biggest employer, the federal government, where one in eight area residents works. The Defense Department alone employs 23,000 people. Second, the magnitude of outsourced federal dollars drives the defense industry, bringing in heavy hitters like Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics Corp., SRA International, Computer Sciences Corp., BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, among others.
The number of contractors obtaining defense dollars is literally in the hundreds. Translated, this means an ever increasing need for a qualified, security cleared workforce. And according to Evan Lesser, Co-founder and Director, ClearanceJobs.com, transitioning service members have the background for an array of opportunities.
“In most cases, there are more open jobs than candidates to fill them,” said Lesser. “In D.C., the majority of open jobs are in IT. But you’ll find openings in every other area, from engineering, logistics, intelligence, finance, contracts, administrative and more.”
Washington’s workforce is a competitive one, with a military presence of more than 71,000 active duty service members and thousands more reservists and veterans. Although the availability of jobs is high in the region, so is the cost of living.
Plenty of workers chose to live in D.C. and take advantage of the urban lifestyle and proximity to more than 30 nationally accredited arts and historical museums. But a higher proportion of families tend to gravitate to the surrounding suburbs. For example, Northern Virginia is big on education, with higher than average per-pupil spending, 34 colleges, universities and professional schools, and access to all D.C. has to offer. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in Arlington the average income is about $90,000 and the median home price is $482,000. In neighboring Alexandria, incomes average $78,000 and the median home price is about $386,000.
The largest defense contractor in the nation, Lockheed Martin, is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland and employs more than 23,000 workers throughout the metro region. As with the rest of the industry, Lockheed Martin’s employment picture is projected to remain excellent, with sales of $39.6 billion reported in 2006, and enviable salaries. Entry level jobs pay as high as $50,000 to $55,000, while more experienced candidates can earn up to six figures.
SRA International, another IT provider, is headquartered in Fairfax and also has facilities dotted throughout the area. Further south, Richmond is beginning to offer more industry jobs and improved quality of life. A 90 minute drive south of D.C., Richmond has branded itself a city ‘Easy to Love,’ offering attractive home prices at about $150,000. Opportunities to work directly in Richmond include the Defense Supply Center and AeroInfo Systems, Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing.
Four towns along the southeastern part of Virginia were long known as reference points for American history. What began with early settlers eventually turned to farm lands and fishing villages. That’s not the case anymore.
Newport News, Hampton, Portsmouth and Norfolk now make up what is known as ‘the peninsula.’ The area flourished because of the harbor – which is also what initially drew the military. Today, the region hosts the largest concentration of uniformed personnel – almost 100,000 active duty members – and the largest concentration of military facilities in the world. Langley AFB, Air Combat Command, Norfolk Navy Base, Fort Eustis, Fort Monroe, Naval Air Station Oceana and Fort Story are but a few of the area’s tenants. Given this fact, every business on the peninsula is affected directly or indirectly by the military presence.
While 1.6 million people call the area home, so do defense contractors from large to small. Northrop Grumman owns Newport News Ship Building and Dry Dock Company, while BAE Systems has Norfolk Ship Repair. Metro Machine Corps and Colonna’s Shipyard Inc. are also based here, all of which run primarily on contracts issued by the Navy.
According to Virginia Commonwealth statistics, about 35 percent of the gross national product for this region comes from the defense contract industry. The job market for security cleared candidates continues to flourish, with 75 percent of the area’s growth in the last five years based on defense contracts, particularly in the areas of ship repair, engineering and IT. According to Lesser, both job opportunities and quality of life make this region increasingly desirable for security cleared candidates.
“Norfolk is relatively close to D.C., but a lot cheaper and it has a much more reasonable cost of living,” he said. “Norfolk is a Navy town with lots of families. You can get a quality job here, with a slower pace and without the intense political climate of D.C. Norfolk is also home to the largest shipyard and shipbuilding industry in the USA. Jobs are wide-ranging, with IT and engineering being dominant.”
This area may be steeped in defense contractor facilities, but it’s also surrounded by beaches and rivers, and major attractions like Hampton Roads Naval Museum, Chrysler Museum of Art, and Virginia Marine Science Museum. In addition, it’s an affordable place to live. Currently, the median sale price of homes in the region is about $131,000. Due to factors like housing prices and cost of living, CNN Money declared Portsmouth one of the best places to retire in its 2006 report.
Tranette Ledford is a free lance journalist with a background in print and broadcast media. She is a regular contributor to Army Times, Cinchouse Magazine and other news and defense industry publications. The article was written on behalf of ClearanceJobs.com.