"Employment has been stable for a number of years, but, as everyone has reported, we're going into another transitional period," said Rick McLeod, the executive director of the SRS Community Reuse Organization, an economic development group.
Budget cuts and organizational changes could drop current employment by 20 percent -- from 11,000 to 9,000 -- by early 2012, the study said, and those losses gradually ripple into nearby communities in Aiken, Allendale, Barnwell, Columbia and Richmond counties.
The analysis, commissioned by the SRSCRO and prepared by the O'Connell Center for Executive Development at University of South Carolina Aiken, said each local worker hired at SRS creates 1.5 additional jobs in the region. Salaries at the site -- which average $85,000 per year -- are also higher than in surrounding areas, meaning economic developers must create 2.5 new jobs to compensate for each SRS job lost.
The findings underscore the need to seek out new missions for the site before current activities, such as environmental cleanup, are completed, said Chris Noah, a strategic planning manager with Savannah River Nuclear Solutions who helped prepare the report.
"If the site wants to stay viable, they're going to have to move quickly to find new projects," he said, noting that the average age of site workers is rising, and the pool of talent that took decades to assemble is shrinking.
"It took a long time to pull this work force together," he said. "Some of them may not stay around until we find new missions."
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