Posted June 10, 2007 07:21 pm

Army post’s impact is still underestimated

It’s easy for area residents to forget just how huge an impact Fort Gordon has on the regional economy. That’s mainly because the Army post, which employs about one in five local residents, is in the defense business, not the self-promotion business.

In Fort Gordon’s 66-year history, neither it nor its community boosters have done a great job of tooting their horns until the formation of the CSRA Alliance in 2003. Some would argue that was the only time the community and the fort have truly united for anything, and that was only because the latest round of the federal Base Realignment and Closure Act threatened to wreak havoc on both.

Fort Gordon survived in 2005 on its own merits. Since then, everyone has gone back to “stand-down.”

Last week, though, the post invited the public to an event that reminded the community it accounts for three of the cylinders in the V-8 engine that powers the local economy.
I’m referring to the kickoff celebration for a $110 million project to build 310 homes and renovate 577 others at the base during the next six years. That development rivals just about any major off-base subdivision built in recent memory. The companies running the show are based in London (as in England) and Pennsylvania (as in Pennsylvania) but some of the work is filtering down to area subcontractors.

But wait, there’s more.

The National Security Agency, the intelligence service that monitors global communications for the U.S. government, soon will break ground for its $1 billion Regional Security Operation Center on the fort near 16th Street and Lane Avenue.

The 525,000-square-foot building – the size of three Wal-Mart Supercenters – will house 4,000 people and be one of only three such facilities in the world. The other two are in San Antonio, (where analysts tune their ears to Latin and South America) and Honolulu (which listens in on the Pacific Rim).

The NSA has operated for years out of Fort Gordon in a building about half as big as the one under development. That facility employs 2,000 people, or about half the personnel as the new one is expected to house when it is completed in 2012.

That’s right, 2012. Apparently, building one of the world’s most advanced eavesdropping stations takes plenty of time.

This project isn’t exactly a secret, but it hasn’t been well publicized, either. Neither the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce nor the Development Authority of Richmond County has said boo about the project.

The military has been characteristically low-key. Go to the NSA’s Web site ( and type “Fort Gordon” into the search engine. Zilch. Type in “Augusta” and you get a link to a 2 -year-old news release for a job fair that mentions nothing about where the jobs will be.

This is unfortunate, because the NSA project is first-rate job creation.

The 2,000 civilian and military personnel who work there – and the 2,000 more who will join them – shop in local stores, pay taxes, send their children to school and volunteer in the community like any other productive citizens.

Local officials should sing Fort Gordon’s praises, and Fort Gordon should let them.
Look at it this way: If a private company brought 2,000 jobs to Augusta, the city would throw it the equivalent of a ticker-tape parade, as though the company were doing the city a favor. Creating 2,000 jobs at Fort Gordon gets a crummy mention in a two-bit business column.

I suppose that’s the price they pay for being in the defense business.

RANDOM E-MAIL OF THE WEEK: While I sit at my desk, waiting for important communiqués to come in from places such as Fort Gordon and the NSA, I get, well, a lot of junk.

To wit: “The Impact of Whiter Teeth on Key First Impressions” study, commissioned by Crest Whitestrips. (No conflict of interest there!)

“This study provides some of the first findings that speak to the powerful benefits of having a whiter smile,” says Dr. Dacher Keltner, a smile psychologist (Huh?) and Professor of Psychology at University of California at Berkeley (Oh, say no more).

According to the three-part study, which included simulated job interviews, simulated first dates and a quantitative online survey, over half of the study participants were more likely to be hired (58 percent) and received larger salary offers (53 percent) after their teeth had been whitened. The study also found that evaluators expressed a greater interest in continuing their interaction or “date” with more than half of the study participants (54 percent) after their teeth had been whitened.