Imagine a city the population of Greenville — about 75,000 — springing up in Eastern North Carolina in the next three years. That’s what military buildups in the region will amount to, and while one expert calls base expansions “the biggest economic-development announcement in 40 years,” the news has sobering consequences.
“In the long term, the growth will be extraordinarily good for Eastern North Carolina in terms of quality of life and the economy,” says Al Delia, president and CEO of North Carolina’s Eastern Region. “But there’ll certainly be some short-term pain through pressure on the roads, highways, education and the infrastructure. If we had a bazillion dollars right now, we couldn’t get them built in time.”
The population in and around Cumberland County will grow by as much as 40,000 — about 9,000 troops, their dependents, Army civilian employees and people filling new jobs of vendors and businesses supporting them — and pump an additional $1 billion a year into the local economy. But the growth will create the need for five new schools, just part of a $276 million shortfall for capital improvements, says Paul Dordal, a retired general who heads a regional task force dealing with base realignments and closings. The Army is transferring a military command from Georgia, which will give Fort Bragg more generals than any place outside the Pentagon. The new headquarters, where billions in military spending will be vetted each year, will attract local offices of some of the nation’s largest military contractors, further boosting the base’s financial firepower. Its economic impact already has increased from about $2.7 billion in 2005 to nearly $3 billion last year. About 43,000 soldiers are stationed there.
Some 11,400 Marines are moving to Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point and New River, bringing with them an estimated 9,500 dependents, 4,000 civilian contractors and 15,000 people to fill jobs their presence will create. About 47,000 Marines and sailors are now based in Onslow and Craven counties. A new wing of airborne refueling tankers recently was assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro.
The buildup will create a building boom that will total $7 billion statewide by 2011, but one aspect of military largess the state has lacked will remain lagging. Defense contracts performed here bring in only about $3 billion a year, about 1% of the total. “We’ve still got work to be done in that area,” says Scott Dorney, executive director of the N.C. Military Business Center in Fayetteville. “People ask me all the time why we don’t get more, and it’s simply because we don’t have a history of big, industrial companies in the state.”