11/12/07 — New airmen will bring money to the county

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New airmen will bring money to the county

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 12, 2007 1:46 PM

As the 300 new active-duty airmen scheduled to make up the 911th Air Refueling Squadron begin arriving in January, it's not just Seymour Johnson Air Force Base that will have to absorb them. The rest of Goldsboro and Wayne County will have to make room as well.

Fortunately, local officials say they are prepared and are excited to receive the new arrivals, which if they all come with the average 2.5-person households, could number about 750.

"It's what we want and what we need. It's all positive," Goldsboro City Manager Joe Huffman said. "We have a very strong relationship with the base and we embrace our military community."

Preparations for the increase, officials explained, have been under way for several years -- ever since the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission made its recommendations.

"We've known about this for a couple of years," Wayne County Chamber of Commerce President Steve Hicks said. "All these people are going to need goods and services from the entire community, but I don't think we're going to be caught by surprise at all. It's going to be a really wonderful addition to our community."

Across the county, explained Planning Director Connie Price, the infrastructure -- the roads, the water lines and the potential housing developments -- is in place.

"If they were all coming to one area, you could see more of an impact, but they will be spread throughout the county," he said. "We'll be able to accommodate them without any problem."

Infrastructure also is being put in place in Goldsboro, Huffman added, particularly through the city's and Self-Help's downtown housing project on South John Street.

"Our thing is, they're going to need places to live, and we're trying to make sure we have affordable housing downtown," he said. "We've been trying to work with the base to meet their expectations."

Also working to meet the needs of the incoming airmen and their families is the Wayne County Public School System.

Working through the Military Child Education Coalition, officials say they are prepared to integrate new students regardless of when they come during the year -- in terms of education and social adjustment, as well as facilities.

"We are excited about the possibility of having new students and will work to assimilate them into our school system," said Olivia Pearce, director of public information. "Of course we don't actually have a number yet, but we feel we can accommodate these new students and incorporate them into our existing infrastructure."

But there's more to the influx than just what the county and city can do for the new arrivals. There's also a matter of what they can provide, both in terms of dollars and civic contributions.

"It's going to have a tremendous impact," Hicks said. "They will be coming here and living here full-time, and they'll bring their families with them."

That means, he continued, that some people will rent, some of them will buy and some of them will build new homes in the community. The base expansion also means more building projects on base, such as the $23 million contract Daniels and Daniels Construction Co. recently received to build three new facilities.

But landowners and construction companies aren't the only businesses expected to benefit.

Others also will benefit from the increase in available workforce and the increase in dollars being spent in the community.

The latter, Hicks explained, is a large reason that residents have seen two new Wal-Marts open this year and construction continuing at Memorial Commons on Wayne Memorial Drive and Goldsboro Promenade on Berkeley Boulevard.

"Those people built those in preparation of the growth of this community," Hicks said. "There's no doubt the economic impact will be in the millions (of dollars)."

But, he added, the importance of the base expansion goes beyond just the dollars involved.

"They're bringing a diversity to our community and a knowledge from the outside world," Hicks said. "And that makes a big difference."