Base Not Alone in Its Economic Impact; Wages Touted in Navy-at-Cecil Debate, but Past Numbers Tell a Different Tale

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID DECAMP

In pushing to return the Navy to Cecil Field, one of Mayor John Peyton's top reasons has been raising incomes in Jacksonville.

But getting Cecil's jets and thousands of jobs at Oceana Naval Air Station didn't jump-start Virginia Beach's wages in the 1990s, federal statistics show. Nor did losing them sandbag Jacksonville.

Jacksonville's average wage hasn't gone kerplunk from Cecil's 1999 shutdown. Instead of the predicted economic doom, wages grew from $20,500 in 1993 to $30,200 in 2003.

And Virginia Beach's average wage hasn't spiked, though the new jobs didn't hurt. Starting at $22,400 in 1993, the city's per capita income hit $32,800 in 2003, the most recent year available from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The trends show how raising incomes in Jacksonville could be more complicated than just restoring a Navy base, even one that pays well. The economy is affected by broader trends.

But Peyton's argument to restore the base has been buoyed by an economic report being finished about Cecil. It suggests average annual pay will be $50,000 for all jobs with the Navy at Cecil and those attracted because of it.

"These are projections that far exceeded my expectations for reporting the economic impact," Peyton said Friday of preliminary findings in the study.

In the mid-1990s, Cecil Field was beginning to lose its jobs as it approached its 1999 closing. Oceana stood to gain, including more than 5,000 military and civilian jobs directed by the 1995 round of base closures. That didn't include spin-off jobs and family members joining personnel.

A lot of factors affect per capita income, and even adding a major base of thousands of jobs helps more subtly. The 2005 base-closure orders could add about 26,000 jobs in metro Jacksonville. Most of the new jobs come from the federal base closure panel's order to move jet training from Oceana to Cecil, if certain conditions are met. Overall, the gains would amount to a 3.6 percent increase, based on the 2005 job base, according to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

"It's just not going to have that kind of impact," said Paul Mason, an economics professor at the University of North Florida.

Other factors affect the glow of new jobs at a single base.

The region including Virginia Beach -- one of the nation's top military clusters -- experienced other employment losses in the 1990s. …