COLUMBUS, Ga. --- The Columbus area is preparing for a population boom as soldiers and civilians are set to arrive from military installations around the world to staff the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, giving the surrounding area a welcome boost in tough economic times.
The federal government announced in 2005 that the U.S. Army Armor School and Center would relocate to the base from Fort Knox in Kentucky. But it has taken time to make all the arrangements under the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure plan.
Soldiers, civilian workers and some family members are expected to start arriving in March, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reports. The pace is expected to quicken in May when school lets out and families with children arrive. By mid-September, Fort Benning is projected to have as many as 28,000 more troops, civilian staffers and spouses with children.
Once everyone is in place by the end of this year, the post's working population will have risen from just over 45,000 in mid-2005 to nearly 57,000.
Local businesses and housing developers will welcome the new arrivals, said Gary Jones, the military affairs executive with the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce. Many were disappointed that new soldiers didn't immediately start arriving after the November 2005 BRAC announcement.
"They heard the who, the what, the where, the why, the how ... but they didn't listen to the when," said Jones, who has been the chamber's connection to Fort Benning throughout the expansion.
The Army speeded up civilian hiring at the Maneuver Center of Excellence earlier this year, said Blanche Robinson, the director for Fort Benning's Civilian Personnel Advisory Center. Only about 250 more employees are needed to get up to a full staff of 1,500 workers.
"The applicant pool has been more than robust for all of the vacancies," Robinson said. "We had blue collar as well as white collar positions, and to date we have experienced no difficulty in sending out referral lists" to hiring managers. There have been between 17 and 40 applicants per vacancy."