National Naval Medical Center, Montgomery County businesses bolster relationship
Of hospital's $203.7M in fiscal 2010 contracts, Montgomery companies got nearly $150M
Joyce B. Watson glared down the alley at the two stalwart pins still standing at attention in the corner. In a single, choreographed motion, she stepped forward, released her ball down the lane, and kicked up her foot as the hunk of urethane plastic took out the remaining men.
The scene a women's league with at least 30 bowlers chatting between turns could have been at any bowling alley. But a mural of the U.S. Navy hospital ship, USNS Comfort, gave away this alley's military ties.
The Bowling Center at National Naval Medical Center has been a staple on the Bethesda military campus since 1979, providing a low-impact sport for rehabilitating patients, a gathering place for service men and women stationed on campus and an outlet for spouses and children whose family members are in treatment.
"When I come, I let go of anything. It relaxes you," said Watson, 68, of Silver Spring, a retired commission officer for the U.S. Public Health Service. Watson bowled anywhere her husband was stationed with the Army, including Thailand, and plays with the Chevy Chasers, a women's league.
"It's a release when husbands are away, it's a relief for women to have something to do. It's something to keep your mind occupied," Watson said.
National Naval Medical Center is, in many ways, a self-sustaining city within a city. Inside the gated campus are life's necessities food, lodging, clothing and luxuries: a fitness center, a hotel, and a bowling alley that serves beer and hosts birthday parties.
Montgomery County plays a role in providing the personnel, products and services needed to keep the campus running. In fiscal 2010, businesses and corporations based in Montgomery County accounted for more than $149.7 million in National Naval Medical Center contracts, almost three-quarters of the center's total contract spending in Maryland, $203.7 million, according to a review of federal contracts aggregated by the Federal Procurement Data System. Federal agencies are required to report contracts of more than $3,000 to the data system.
About 46 percent of the $149.7 million awarded in Montgomery County went to Bethesda companies, including $67.6 million to Clark Construction and its partner, Balfour Beatty Construction. In 2008, those companies were awarded a $640 million construction contract for the buildings needed for the Base Realignment and Closure that will merge the campus with Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The remaining value of contracts awarded to Bethesda businesses in fiscal 2010 totaled a little more than $1 million.
Bethesda-area businesses have had "little incentive or encouragement for a relationship," said Patrick O'Neil, chairman of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. But with hundreds of thousands more patients, visitors and employees expected at the campus annually beginning in September, when Walter Reed National Military Medical Center opens, both the military and its closest neighbors are forging a stronger business relationship.
"We're hopeful we'll be able to change the traditional relationship we've had with Navy Med," O'Neil said. "We're looking for ways to bring the Bethesda business community on campus and to encourage Navy Med to be part of the Bethesda community."
A city within a city
For many Bethesda-area business leaders, Navy Med is the reclusive neighbor who rarely ventures outside. And if his house is as well stocked as Navy Med, why bother?
The campus' amenities include restaurants, convenience stores, banks, a hotel, a gas station, a barber and a tailor.
The goal is to provide patients recovering from injuries the convenience of having what they need nearby and give their families the ease of an all-military social environment.
"We're here for their everyday needs, whether picking up a bag of chips or a gift for a spouse," said Teresa Oyler, the branch manager of the campus' Navy Exchange. "We play an important role with our patrons. We're part of the family, I guess you would say."
But with an additional 400,000 annual visitors and 2,500 more employees, those resources will need to adjust to accommodate an increased demand.
The Navy Exchange, the staple shopping center on campus that sells everything from socks and shirts to fine jewelry and wine, is undergoing a renovation that will expand the place from a 4,500-square-foot shop to a two-story, 150,000-square-foot complex.
The campus' master plan calls for an expansion of the Navy Lodge, a 106-room hotel that is almost always within 2 percent of capacity. Oyler said the lodge is undergoing a study that will evaluate the environmental effects of the project, but declined to give details about potential additions.
At the bowling alley, infrastructure will remain the same, but manager Noel Dysart said he hopes additional visitors will give his business a boost. Dysart lost about 40 percent of his business after Sept. 11, when the iron fence went up around campus and bowlers could no longer wander in on a whim. Guests need to be on a list, either by joining a league, being previously invited to a birthday party or having a federal sponsor. Guests bowl between 15,000 and 20,000 games a month, Dysart said. Before Sept. 11, the center saw closer to 23,000 games a month.
MoCo and Navy Med: Business partners
A review of Navy Med contracts available through the Federal Procurement Data System shows a total of $203.7 million in contracts with Maryland businesses and corporations in fiscal 2010. Montgomery County accounted for the greatest percentage of that total, more than twice that of all the state's other counties combined.
"They are certainly a federal agency that has been here and has built relationships in the business community," said Barbara Ashe, executive vice president of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.
A majority of the Navy's contracts in Montgomery County are with medical and medical technology companies, such as OMV Medical Incorporated, a Takoma Park-based company that provides medical personnel and had $28.4 million in contracts with Navy Med in fiscal 2010, and Rockville-based Nika Technologies, which contracted for about $1.4 million in engineering services for Navy Med the same fiscal year.
Ashe said Navy Med's merger with Walter Reed will be a boost for the county's economy, especially for the medical science industry, but could not say how much the county's businesses stand to gain.
"Health IT is the next frontier and Montgomery County is positioned to be what's next," Ashe said.
A Navy contract has also helped out non-medical small businesses, including Marcia Vogin, an Olney organist who plays the Sunday church services on campus. Records show a total of about $34,500 in Navy Med contracts with Vogin in fiscal 2010; Vogin said her actual payout was about $7,000 or $8,000 less because the contract includes funding for services, as needed, that was not used.
Bethesda has not been left out of the business loop Bethesda-based Clark Construction and a partner, Balfour Beatty Construction, received the most in contracts with Navy Med in fiscal 2010, more than $67 million, for building construction.
But owners of smaller Bethesda businesses say they have not had the same relationship with their military neighbor and see the campus' transformation, as it prepares to merge with Walter Reed, as an opportune time to forge a friendship. Business leaders say a stronger relationship would better integrate the military and civilian communities and would be good for business.
"The part of Bethesda we see and shop in is really a third of what makes up Bethesda the other two-thirds are behind fences," said Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center. "We want to get them out and be part of the broader community. It benefits everyone."
More than 80 downtown Bethesda business and restaurants have signed up with the regional services center and Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce to offer discounts to military families.
"For me personally, I think it's the right thing to do. As a business owner, it's a wise thing to do," said Tony Marciante, chef owner of Chef Tony's Restaurant. "You give a little back and you hopefully expose yourself to some fresh guests."
Marciante offers service members and their families 20 percent off lunch or dinner. Other offers include a $20 off for sewing machine and vacuum repairs at Brothers Sew & Vac, 20 percent off dental work and a free exam at Bethesda Chevy Chase Dental Care and 15 percent discount on purchases at Party Mania.
Inside the gates, the military is also making efforts to make friends.
Kat Pettaway, a corporate sponsorship manager who helps organize events on campus for families, is increasingly bringing local business on as sponsors. More events are planned for this year than in years past and Pettaway hopes to open up at least a few to the public, such as a travel expo, car show and wedding planning event, she said.
"We want businesses to know the same people who work inside the campus are the same people on the outside," Pettaway said. "Once the military sees that you support them, they build a loyalty to your brand."
But knowing what services, discounts and amenities are available outside the gates is only half the battle of opening the relationship between Navy Med and Bethesda, said David Dabney, director of Bethesda Urban Partnership, an organization that markets and maintains the downtown shopping and business district.
Downtown Bethesda's restaurants and shops are about a mile from Navy Med, but without a convenient way to get there from the military campus, no one does, he said. Right now, the quickest way to get from the military campus to downtown Bethesda is to ride the Metro. The traffic congestion along Wisconsin Avenue and limited parking in the downtown district makes driving a frustrating option, Dabney said, but he dreams of easy, above-ground transportation a bike share program, similar to the one in Washington, D.C., which allows riders to pick up a bike at one rack and return it at another across town.
The process of convincing commuters to take public transit and the period of construction needed to improve roads around campus will be a difficult transition, Dabney said, but he is hopeful the traffic problems will be growing pain, rather than a long-term illness.
"We're ready and willing," he said. "We're open for business."
About this report
This is the third in a series of reports leading up to the September merger of Walter Reed Army Medical Center at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. Previous reports focused on construction on campus and the impact of the hospital on its neighbors. Find them on www.gazette.net.