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CPBJ: Here’s what the midstate gains from its military installations

This article appeared on Central Penn Business Journal on March 14, 2017.

Among the report’s findings: the three installations – the War College/Carlisle BarracksNaval Support Activity in Hampden Township and Defense Logistics Agency Distribution Susquehanna in New Cumberland – have an annual economic impact of $1 billion and employ nearly 11,000 people.

The Cumberland York Area Local Defense Group commissioned the study in 2015, partly as a response to national talks about potential base realignments and closures (BRAC). The defense group wanted a study that could, if needed, make the case for the value of the midstate’s military presence, both to the local community and the Department of Defense, and spell out steps for improving them.

The group initially hoped to have the report by February 2016, but funding issues during the 2015-2016 state budget impasse led to a one-year delay. The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners ultimately helped bridge that funding gap, said Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp. CEO Jonathan Bowser.

The commissioners contributed $50,000 to the project, while the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development provided $36,000. Consulting firms Michael Baker International and Dering Consulting Group completed the report based on a year’s worth of surveys, interviews, meetings and other research.

Their findings paint the three military installations as valuables assets to their communities, pointing to, among other statistics, their status as major employers; the 400 students who attend the Army War College in North Middleton Township each year; the 185,000 annual visitors to the Army Heritage & Education Center; and $24 million in spending the sites bring to local hotels and restaurants.

The installations also had the support of most of the people surveyed during the study, the report says, as well as backing from local governments, which help with roadway improvements and facility expansions.

It notes few negative impacts, with the exception of traffic congestion, storm water runoff issues and installation access issues (mostly security-related) in some areas.

The report also points to numerous ways in which the York-Cumberland region benefits the military, including its proximity to major roadways like the Interstate 81 corridor, its fast-growing economy and its position as a warehouse hub for many major companies.

The report concludes with actions the installations can take to further their relationships with the surrounding communities, including partnering with local officials, developing a civilian workforce that supports military needs and coordinating infrastructure improvements.

Much of the information in the report is likely of little surprise to the thousands of people who live and work around the installations. Having the information in one place, however, gives the Cumberland York Area Local Defense Group, a group created by the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp, evidence to support keeping them open if the federal government pursues a round of base closings.

Such closings have not happened since 2005, when an initial government list named but later removed the Carlisle Barracks as a possible target for closure. Subsequent attempts to start another BRAC round have failed to materialize since then.

Several legislators have renewed that push this year, with one proposed bill saying the Defense Department could save $2 billion annually by cutting excess infrastructure. Whether the requests will amount to anything is difficult to predict, especially as President Donald Trump advocates a $54 billion increase in military spending.

Bowser suspects a BRAC is still on the horizon between 2019 and 2021. The Defense Department has 22 percent excess capacity overall, he noted, and Army schools have 44 percent excess capacity.

“Due to our strategic location, we feel confident that (Defense Logistics Agency) and (Naval Support Activity) could attract additional workloads and missions as a result of a BRAC, but the Army War College is more vulnerable,” he said.

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