Jobs key to S.C. support for military bases

By Chuck Crumbo
Published Feb. 29, 2012

Supporting and protecting South Carolina military bases from the Pentagon’s budget ax is about jobs and the economy, Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom said Tuesday at the first meeting of the state Military Task Force in more than a year.

Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom
While each community has its own interests in ensuring the Defense Department doesn’t shutter their base, Eckstrom, who chairs the 20-member panel made up of local base boosters, said members of the task force should work toward collaborating on their efforts.

“It’s about jobs,” Eckstrom said, noting that a 2004 study by the Darla Moore School of Business at USC found S.C. military installations account for $8 billion in annual economic impact and 142,000 jobs or about 7% of the state's workforce.

Those figures are outdated, base boosters say. Latest estimates from the individual communities — Columbia, Charleston, Sumter and Beaufort — put the total annual economic impact closer to $13 billion.

Also, the number of jobs has climbed because new missions have been assigned to Fort Jackson, Shaw Air Force Base and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort since the last round of base closings in 2005.

Shaw Air Force Base gained about 1,200 military and civilian positions when 3rd Army headquarters was moved from Atlanta to a $90 million complex inside the base’s fence line. (Photo/File)

Shaw gained about 1,200 military and civilian positions when 3rd Army headquarters was moved from Atlanta to a $90 million complex inside the base’s fence line. More than 600 military jobs were added to Fort Jackson. And Beaufort is in line to bed down five squadrons of the new F-35 stealth fighter jet, which will mean more than $350 million in new construction, 4,000 construction-related jobs, and 200 full-time civilian jobs, according to the Beaufort area’s military affairs website, set up by the community’s base boosters.

Eckstrom noted that the 2004 study did not include the S.C. National Guard or Reserve units across the state. A study released in 2011 found that the National Guard’s economic impact totaled more than $1 billion a year. No figures are available for Reserve units.

To update the numbers, S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt, a member of the task force, said his agency will cover the cost of a new study.

In January, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, suggested that another BRAC, or Base Realignment and Closure, be commissioned to consider closing and consolidating installations around the world and in the United States. The Defense Department is looking for ways to trim about $490 billion from its budget over the next 10 years.

“Even by Washington standards, that’s a lot of money,” said task force member Ike McLeese of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

No date for a new round of base closings has been set, but speculation ranges to sometime between 2013 and 2015.

One thing McLeese and representatives of the state’s military communities are looking for is money to cover costs of their efforts to support military bases.

McLeese said the chamber, which is leading Midlands’ base support efforts, is trying to raise $250,000 to cover its costs of a consultant.

Mary Graham, of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, said her organization will need $1 million to fund any BRAC effort.

George Patrick, former coordinator of the task force and now Hitt’s deputy secretary at the state Department of Commerce, urged members to look for ways to be proactive in promoting efficiencies and how local bases can take on additional missions. A common theme of the last round of BRAC was “jointness,” that is, finding ways to put the different armed services together on one base instead of each maintaining their own installation.

“If you’re just holding ground, we’re losing,” Patrick said, paraphrasing the famous remark attributed to WWII Gen. George Patton.

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