02/12/04 — Strategic plan seeks to make N.C. the most military-friendly state

View Archive

Strategic plan seeks to make N.C. the most military-friendly state

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on February 12, 2004 2:04 PM

A strategic plan for making North Carolina the most military-friendly state in the nation was presented Wednesday to the N.C. Advisory Commission on Military Affairs.

The commission, meeting in Goldsboro, established four committees to develop the plan of how to help sustain the state's military installations.

John Berndt, commission member, handed out the finished copies for the members to look over in their spare time. The plan should be adopted at the next commission meeting in April.

The four committees include military base sustainability; intergovernmental affairs and public relations; economic development; and quality of life and workforce development.

Sustainability means protecting bases from development that could compromise military missions.

Quality of life includes protecting and enhancing the benefits for service members, veterans, retirees, civilian employees of the military and their families and helping military spouses. It would also involve helping military personnel who are leaving the armed services find jobs and career training.

Economic development includes helping N.C. businesses get defense contracts. These contracts would also lead to more jobs.

The final theme, intergovernmental affairs and public relations, includes demonstrating the state's strong support for the military and promoting and helping to improve communication and cooperation among the military services and bases.

The next steps are responding to any concerns about the plan, briefing others like the governor, the lieutenant governor and the secretary of commerce, and publicizing it statewide, said Berndt.

The commission is a panel that makes recommendations to the governor about the economic effect and relationship between the bases and their surrounding communities. Several Wayne County residents are on the commission.

After military leaders left the meeting, the rest of the board briefly discussed the Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC. Military personnel are not allowed to discuss BRAC. The process is scheduled for 2005, and Pentagon officials have said that up to 25 percent of the bases in the country will be placed on a closing list.

No one knows if any of the state's five major bases -- Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base -- will be placed on the list.

The Defense Department published eight draft selection criteria in the Dec. 23 Federal Register for the BRAC process, which were open for 30 days of public comment. It will use the criteria as part of its evaluation. Priority is placed on military value.

The final criteria is scheduled to be published sometime within the next week. It is expected that it will be similar to the draft criteria.

In March 2005, President Bush will appoint a BRAC commission, and that September, the commission will submit a list of bases to the president, who will accept or reject it. Congress will then accept or reject the list.

Previous BRAC reports from 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 resulted in 97 bases selected for closure.

A recent economic study was prepared for the commission. It indicates that Seymour Johnson Air Force Base affects nearly 15,000 employees and contributes $800 million to the state's economy.

The study was prepared by East Carolina University Regional Development Services; Regional Economic Models Inc., of Amherst, Mass.; and N.C. State University's Division of Community Engagement.

Work for the study began in the middle of last year in hopes of updating a similar study that was done in the mid 1990s.

Based upon the projections, the military's effect on the state's economy exceeds $18 billion, or 7 percent of the gross state product.

About 70 percent, or $12 billion, is contributed to that total by the primary military bases through the operations of the bases, purchases and payroll of military and civilian employees.

Defense contracts and retiree payments account for another $1.43 billion and $1.51 billion, according to the study.

The conservative figures in the study are all estimates and a model was used that is accepted across the nation.

The commission plans to use the study when getting its message across about how important the military is to the state.

The city of Goldsboro and Wayne County have been commended for their efforts in helping to protect Seymour Johnson.

Warning signs have been placed in all the high-noise areas around the base and the county commissioners voted unanimously Dec. 2 for a moratorium to ban new subdivisions and mobile-home parks for the next six months around the base and under its flight lines.