New state program focuses on job growth to protect military installations

Soldiers stand at ease during a deployment ceremony for the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion on Friday.

A new state program depends on economic development and job growth to protect military installations from future rounds of U.S. military base closures.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal created the Governor’s Defense Initiative in late November to attract more defense contractors to the state, which leaders close to the program said will help the military posts during examinations from the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

“You can’t wait until BRAC lists bases that are going to close to start worrying about these things,” said Rogers Wade, executive director of the program.

Drawdowns of military spending make it vital that military programs function at optimal levels and use a highly-skilled workforce to strengthen the base and surrounding city, Wade said.

The program is collecting data from the state’s military installations that will later be used for marketing various locations to industries. The Georgia Department of Economic Development is overseeing the initiative.

Georgia’s military presence includes three Army bases, two Air Force bases, a Navy base and a Marine base which collectively generate $20 billion in economic impact, according to Deal’s office. Eight of the top 10 defense contractors in the U.S. have operations in the state.

Economic development surrounding Fort Gordon will likely focus on the Army post’s existing specialties of information technology and communications, said retired Col. Thom Tuckey, executive director of the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon.

Several defense contractors staff small offices in Augusta but the area needs to attract larger offices or headquarters, Tuckey said. Fort Gordon is leading changes in communications tactics that affect contract work, he said.

“Defense contractors need to be aware of what these changes are,” Tuckey said. “There is constant dialog between military and the defense industry.”

The next round of base closures, however, won’t likely threaten Fort Gordon, Tuckey said. Augusta’s Army post is well positioned but should always look for room to grow, he said.

“With the missions that are there and the growth of those missions, worrying about BRAC is not what CSRA Alliance is doing these days,” he said.

Another focus of the state’s program is ensuring that jobs are available for service members making a transition to civilian life. About 800 military personnel exit Fort Gordon for civilian work annually, and surveys indicate that as many as 50 percent would stay in the Augusta area if the job market would support it, Tuckey said.

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