Pa. group arming itself to defend military bases

By MIKE LEWIS
mlewis@crossroadsbizjournal.com

Photo courtesy Letterkenny Army Depot
In July 2016, Letterkenny Army Depot rolled out the latest variant of the RG31, with improvements including engine and transmission upgrades, independent suspension, enhanced night visibility and an armored gunner’s hatch. The depot is scheduled to produced 929 of the RG31s through 2020.

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Noting the “significant” economic impact of military bases, a Pennsylvania group is gearing up to defend them against potential reductions or closures.

No cuts are on the horizon, according to L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp. But he said such moves are “always a subject of conversation” as the government looks to trim budgets or adjust the military’s capabilities to respond to changing threats.

“In Pennsylvania, we have not been as focused on our (military) installations as other states. … What we’ve been trying to do is educate both our policymakers and the public at large on the importance of defense spending, not only in Franklin County, but in Pennsylvania as a whole,” Ross said.

He’s hoping the Pennsylvania Military Community Enhancement Commission can help that educational effort.

Ross is a member of the commission, which is chaired by Lt. Gov. Mike Stack. The commission recently released a report on military bases, authored by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research.

The report found that military installations are among the state’s top employers and economic drivers. 

“Through direct, indirect, and induced effects, Pennsylvania’s major military installations generated $4 billion in labor income and $11 billion in total economic output in 2016, resulting in 55,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the state,” the report states. “Typically, each installation is among the largest and most established employers in its county and a major source of high-quality jobs for Pennsylvania workers.”

The Letterkenny Army Depot near Chambersburg, for example, adds about $1.75 billion to the Franklin County economy, according to the report. The base employs more than 3,000 people, including government workers, military personnel and private contractors.

“The economic impact is very, very significant,” Ross said.

But the report also found that stakeholders must redouble their efforts to keep the bases, and the jobs that go with them, from being lost to competition. So in addition to calculating economic impacts, the documents also outline steps that can be taken to ensure that each installation remains relevant to the military in the decades to come.

The Letterkenny report concludes with these points under the heading of “Looking forward”:

• The importance of partnerships with groups such as the Franklin County Area Development Corp., Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority and local and state governments.

• The expansion of the foreign military sales market, which “may be a promising opportunity for Letterkenny.”

• The potential revamping of Letterkenny’s industry day “to support contracting with local businesses and enhance community integration.”

• The potential for Letterkenny to tap into a Pennsylvania Logistics Center of Excellence, “which would bring a common orientation around the state’s concentrated strength in transportation, distribution and logistics.”

In a news release, Stack, as the commission chairman, said a change in Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation could complicate efforts to preserve the more than 50,000 defense-related jobs in the state. Through several key retirements, the state’s U.S. House delegation is likely to lose half of its seniority in this election cycle, he said.

The report found that “support for Pennsylvania’s military sector is inconsistent across installations and over time, presenting an opportunity for increased support.”