05/15/05 — Wayne ready to get back to business

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Wayne ready to get back to business

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on May 15, 2005 2:01 AM

After hearing Seymour Johnson Air Force Base escaped the Pentagon's ax, local business leaders quickly turned their attention to the future.

"I was expecting good news, and got it," said Henry Smith, chairman of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce. "But you're always glad when it's here, particularly when it's out of your control. You just want to see it, and we saw it (Friday) in print."

Smith said the effect of the good news on the local economy will be immediate. Existing businesses that had held off expanding or hiring additional workers will likely feel safer about their investments. Businesses considering moving to Wayne County might be more inclined to proceed.

"People that may have hesitated now don't have any reason to hesitate any longer," he said.

"It relieves a lot of stress for all of us," said Chuck Allen, city councilman and developer. "Although we're not out of the woods yet, this is just a great win for Goldsboro and the county."

"Many people have been sitting on the sidelines. This should make a big difference to them. I really expect to see things pick up around here," Allen said.

He said he delayed plans to build a subdivision until the BRAC list was announced.

At Lowe's, store manager Charles Edwards said he expects to see the effect of the BRAC decision in the store's sales. "I think they've passed the uncertainty stage now," he said. "I think that if they would have announced the closing of the base, we might have made some adjustments."

Edwards said a strong percentage of his customers are military-related.

Hal Keck of Houser and Associates Real Estate said his initial reaction was "relief and joy, probably in that order."

Keck said the county's real estate market will pick up. "I know that there were a number of individuals that were holding back on getting into the housing market until this notification was made."

He said the additional airmen and their families also will jumpstart the housing market. Although the BRAC changes won't be implemented until 2009, Keck predicted the market will experience an instant uptick.

"It may be very minor, but I think there's going to be a great deal more confidence," he said. "I think you'll see buyers crop up that have been waiting to hear this news."

Keck, who retired from the Air Force, said he has a personal interest in keeping Seymour Johnson open. "I have a real affinity for this base, since my dad helped re-open it back in the '50s, and I feel very close to it. I'm just happy to see that we're growing, and there will be a positive impact on the city and county."

The announcement should help efforts to attract new industries, said Joanna Thompson, president of the county Economic Development Commission.

Uncertainty about the base's future must have affected some companies as they considered locating or expanding here, she said Friday afternoon. "I don't know of any projects that we lost, but there's a whole lot that they don't discuss with us.

"I will say this -- 90 percent of the companies we deal with are very aware of BRAC and its implications."

A closure or downsizing would have uprooted many spouses and retirees, considered a skilled labor pool and attractive to industries looking for communities with an available labor force.

The announcement had ramifications down Highway 117 as well.

"We are obviously delighted with the news that Seymour Johnson will actually expand its troop base under the BRAC Proposal," said John Pegram, president of Southern Bank and the Mount Olive Committee of 100.

"This is extremely good news for both Goldsboro and the entire Wayne County region, not only for what the base contributes to the local economy, but also for what its personnel contribute to our community," Pegram said.

In addition to the economic impact, Keck said the Dept. of Defense's decision increases the overall strength of Seymour Johnson role in national defense.

"We increased slightly the F-15 capability, and we increased the reserve wing," Keck said. "What has happened is the best of both worlds."