Military Base Closures Not Catastrophes Communities That Avoid Panic and Quickly Seek Alternatives Are Likely to Weather the Storm and Find New Enterprises

Article excerpt

CONSIDER the plight of Charleston, S.C. With a strong record of job creation and economic development, Charleston was a Southern city on the rise. Then the federal government landed on Charleston like a ton of bricks. On March 15, half a dozen Charleston naval facilities were recommended for closure by the Pentagon.

After three months of painstaking analysis, the Base Closure and Realignment Commission has released its final list, and Charleston's biggest facilities are still on it. But rather than fostering angst and recrimination, this should be seen by Charleston and cities like it as a rare opportunity for economic revitalization.

Military base closures do not reduce the affected communities to modern-day ghost towns. In fact, a recent study of 24 communities facing military base closures, conducted by Business Executives for National Security (BENS), suggests that most communities on the final base "hit list" will eventually emerge better off if they follow certain steps.

Step 1: Recognize the inevitable. Over the next five years active Army divisions are scheduled to be slashed 45 percent, Navy surface ships 37 percent, and Air Force fighter wings 39 percent. Total personnel will be reduced by nearly a third. Given these cuts, maintaining the 274 major domestic military bases is impossible.

An ability to adapt to the future is the key to a successful base closing transition. Many communities that had initially fought to defend their bases turned their energies full-throttle toward redevelopment once the decision was final. Alexandria, La., site of England Air Force Base, was among them. Once the list became final, Alexandria stopped fighting and started replacing the jobs. As a result, the community has already created hundreds of jobs on the former base.

Other affected communities, Philadelphia, Pa., among them, sued the Department of Defense - a less successful strategy. It is no wonder that private industry is already moving onto England Air Force Base, while the future of the Philadelphia facility remains mired in court, without a publicly supported reuse plan.

Step 2: Organize. Since most bases lie within several different governmental jurisdictions, it is essential to build a regional consensus on reuse and to empower a local authority to spend money and make decisions on redevelopment. …