Opinion

Military construction budget helps buoy the NC economy

This editorial appeared in The Fayetteville Observer,

There are some little phrases that can send a big shiver down the spines of elected officials around here. This one, for example, could do it every time: "The next round of BRAC."

We've seen mention of Base Realignment and Closure throw politicians and chamber of commerce members into a tizzy, igniting big public-relations campaigns, lobbying efforts and a host of "We love Fort Bragg" festivities.

But it probably won't have that effect this time, because the phrase is attached to a budget plan that proposes nearly $300 million in military construction projects in North Carolina in the coming federal fiscal year, nearly $60 million of it on Fort Bragg. That's not what you do when you plan to abandon or shrink a post.

Since the last round of BRAC, which added the four-star Forces Command to Fort Bragg, it's been clear that the post is playing, more than ever, a key role in this country's global military strategy. It's the largest military installation in the country, home of special operations and the nation's Global Response Force. The Joint Special Operations Command has coordinated some of the most critical military missions in this century, including the takedown of Osama bin Laden.

Camp Lejeune, though, is getting the lion's share of the North Carolina military construction budget this year. The largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast will get nearly $200 million. It will go toward a $328 million enlisted bachelors housing project, a $65 million water treatment plant, a $20 million motor transport maintenance expansion and a nearly $11 million human performance training center for special operations forces.

On Fort Bragg, the bulk of the construction spending will go to special ops as well. That includes more than $20 million for a human performance training center, $13.5 million for a support battalion administration facility, $20 million for a tactical equipment maintenance facility and $4 million for telecommunications reliability improvements. In the years since the construction of the Forces Command headquarters, most new construction funding has gone to special operations, which is taking on an ever-increasing role in the war on terror.

The construction budget holds good news for Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro and the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. Both are being upgraded to handle some of the latest military aircraft – the KC-46 tanker and the F-35 fighter. That's a signal that the facilities are likely safe from upcoming BRAC activities.

Scott Dorney, who heads the N.C. Military Business Center, says the construction budget is a great opportunity for local businesses, especially suppliers and contractors. Although the budget needs congressional approval, Dorney says it typically is approved as submitted. His organization will work to help North Carolina contractors get a share of the new business. It also holds an annual construction summit every year in Wilmington. This year's is Oct. 24 and 25.

The Defense Department wants to begin a new round of base closures and realignments in 2021, but like the construction budget, it requires congressional approval. Unlike the construction budget, the approval isn't a slam dunk. Members of Congress are reticent about shutting down military facilities in their districts, especially when bases and shipyards are big employers. Even when the need for shutdown or downsizing is clear, the vote is more often for kicking the can down the road for a few more years and hoping things change. We'll certainly see more BRAC exercises in the future, but don't circle any dates – or years – on a calendar just yet.

Meanwhile, this state's businesses can gear up to meet the needs of a thriving military economy that looks as if it will stay strong for many years to come.

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