Friday, July 15, 2005

Louisiana & base closings

It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom for Louisiana in light of recent recommendations from a federal commission to close several military facilities in the state. Indeed, Governor Blanco set an optimistic tone in the opening lines of this May 2005 press release (State BRAC page here). Now there are interesting findings from the Heritage Foundation concerning the base realignment and closure (BRAC) process and per capita income. Heritage concludes that in areas where bases have closed in the past, “most communities have recovered nicely from past BRAC rounds, with approximately 90 percent of all jobs being replaced. Indeed, approximately 115,000 jobs have been created through past recovery efforts, and many communities have actually prospered.” This report emphasizes the importance of BRAC despite the frightening implications for communities on the closure list. “BRAC is one of the most important – and controversial – issues affecting the future health of the armed forces, and it is critical to U.S. national security. It balances national defense priorities, supports the Pentagon’s military modernization objective, saves the Department of Defense billions of dollars each year, and creates opportunities for private economic development.” In other words, sometimes the recommendation for closure has nothing to do with the state in which a base is located and everything to do with the needs of the U.S. military to more effectively provide for the national defense. Using three regions as case studies for economic success after base closures, the Heritage report offers suggestions for successfully navigating the closure and reaping economic benefits from the infrastructure left behind. “It is of vital importance for them [target communities] to act proactively,” the report says. “They should not wait for the Pentagon, the federal government, or any other agency to tell them what to do. Instead, they should develop their own plans and tell the Pentagon and other government agencies what to do.” The Heritage report then provides several examples of closed bases that are now significant economic drivers for the communities which had initially mourned the base closure. One base is now an “international aviation and aerospace center and designated foreign trade zone.” Another “is being developed into an upscale master-planned… community.” Yet another is a “world-class research, education, and business campus.” Even Louisiana’s England Air Force Base in Alexandria which closed in 1991 is cited as an example that “allowed local planners to take advantage of England’s varied assets to diversity the local economy.” The Times Picayune had an article about it on May 23, available here (scroll down to “Survival Strategy.”) Meanwhile, the Advocate had a piece earlier this month about federal grants to aid in the transition from bases to something else locally sustainable. Given the extraordinary infrequency with which previous BRAC recommendations have been reversed, it seems a better use of energy for communities affected by proposed base closures to develop a “what next?” plan that utilizes all the resources and physical plant that will be left behind when the inevitable closure comes. See yesterday’s Times Picayune for an example of energy that might be better directed elsewhere. By commenting on this I don’t mean to diminish the very real fear and uncertainty that accompanies a base closure. The point is simply that there is life, indeed very dynamic economic life, in the aftermath of a base closure. Check out the official BRAC site here for more info. Additional DoD-BRAC info is here. Louisiana needs to start embracing these likely closures as opportunities instead of mourning them as irreparable losses.