Military Bases As Economic Development Magnets
Many of the military bases that have survived the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) have become hotbeds of development.
James T. Berger (June/July 09)
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Hill AFB, Utah
Also having a major impact on its local economy is Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah, adjacent to the municipalities of Clearfield, Roy, Sunset, and Layton, 29 miles north of Salt Lake City. The Hill AFB footprint has 23,000 military and civilian employees and is the sixth-largest employment entity in Utah.
A new initiative near the base involves 500 to 550 acres of underutilized property. Sunset Ridge Development Partners, a consortium of three companies, is allowed to lease the land long-term. In exchange, the base will receive free replacements for older buildings in that area. This creates a win-win situation because the military gets no-cost buildings worth some $350 million and the nearby cities will share in the tax revenues and new job growth benefits. Phase One of this project involves 180 acres of three- to eight-story buildings near the Hill Aerospace Museum. It involves two hotels, plus rental and office space. "We anticipate 10,000 new jobs in phase one," says Darrin Wray, a project manager.
Other phases will be constructed over the next 15 to 25 years, according to Jeff Edwards, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah. "This development is part of the Enhanced Use Lease program. The ground belongs to the Air Force and through the EUL program it is made available to private development," he says. "We look at the base as a strong economic development tool for us. It not only helps the Air Force update its facilities but provides an attractive spot for some existing and new players that would benefit from being close to the base."
As with Offutt, there is an educational component to the industrial development anchored by Hill AFB. "Right next door to the base is Weber State University, a regional university," says Edwards. "This provides a great source of education for base personnel as well as providing workers to the civilian side of the work force."
• In the Baltimore, Maryland- Washington, D.C., region, Brad S. McDearman, executive vice president of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, says the information technology growth in the area "will continue to be strong given the military expansion that is expected to come with the planned Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, which will add jobs concentrated around Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground, both major installations in Maryland." Game design company Breakaway Ltd. changed it corporate focus when it located near the Maryland bases; it stopped making games for entertainment to focus on simulations for the military. Douglas Whatley, founder and CEO of the company, believes location is a major factor in attracting government business. "We are an easier choice, because we could just, you know, pop down for a meeting," he says.
• The Philadelphia Navy Yard, a new facility an the site of an old Navy base, is becoming a national center for engineering and manufacturing innovation. The focus is a partnership with the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Ship Systems Engineering Station in Philadelphia. "We have the potential to be a future Silicon Valley in the power and energy field," says Patricia Woody, head of the machinery research and engineering department of the Navy unit. "So much is going on in the power and energy fields around the world." Her department includes 1,200 to 1,500 engineers and technical staff in such areas as increasing fuel efficiency, reducing pollution, and designing advanced propulsion systems. Woody believes the planned innovation center at the Navy Yard will create the nation's biggest cluster of research and manufacturing in those fields.
• According to a newly released study on the New Jersey megabase that includes McGuire Air Force Base, Fort Dix, and the Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst, major new industrial development will come from the military concentration. Military and state and local government officials have held high-stakes discussions over their shared future in recent years. The purpose of the $300,000 study, funded primarily by the Department of Defense, was to explore the pros and cons of maintaining these bases and to plan for joint land use that will result in improved communications and coordination. "We want to keep the military here," says Brandi Bartolomeo, project manager at PS&S, an engineering firm that worked on the study. "It's a huge boost for the economy of New Jersey. And now we have a road map to move forward." More than 22,000 civilians work on the three bases, and more than $500 million in construction is already underway at the bases with more investment on the way.