At the Imprint Warehouse near the front gate of Fort Stewart, owner Daniel Clark figures about 40 cents of every dollar he earns comes from units at the neighboring Army post ordering T-shirts custom printed with battalion logos, embroidered ball caps and decorative coins that commanders pass out to reward their troops.
Spending by the military helped keep Clark’s business in Hinesville afloat when construction contractors and other corporate customers all but stopped placing orders during the recession. But with federal budgets squeezed tight and the Pentagon planning to downsize, Clark is working to line up more civilian clients.
Now a report from the Army hints at how painful military cutbacks could be for Georgia. The cutbacks outlined in the report are purely hypothetical, and were designed to give military commanders and policymakers an idea of how severe the economic fallout could be for each base listed.
For Fort Stewart, Army analysts looked at the economic fallout from a worst-case reduction of 8,000 soldiers and civilian workers — roughly two combat brigades and their support staffs. They projected a loss of about $334 million in payroll that would cause annual sales to drop 21 percent in a five-county region around the Army post. The cuts were forecast to trigger additional losses of 965 military contractor positions and 791 non-military civilian jobs.
“If we were to lose even one of our four brigades, that means less people to eat in restaurants and less people that need my services,” said Clark, who also serves as vice chairman of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce. “It affects so many different people. The Army is part of the main customer base in this town.”
The Army ordered the report, a draft of which was released Jan. 18, to size up the potential economic consequences for U.S. military communities as the Army seeks to shrink its total force from 562,000 active-duty soldiers to 490,000 by fiscal year 2020.
Among the 21 bases that face being hit hardest, three are in Georgia — Fort Stewart, Fort Benning in Columbus and Fort Gordon in Augusta.
At Fort Benning, Army analysts looked at a worst-case loss of 7,100 soldiers and civilians. While that’s only 18 percent of the 39,243 serving on the Army post, about half the total are students there for training. The report estimated payroll losses at $297 million, enough to trigger further job losses for about 1,234 non-military civilian workers in Columbus and seven surrounding counties.
In Augusta, Fort Gordon has no combat units but rather is home to communication technology specialists and one of the South’s largest Army hospitals. The Army report looked at potential cuts of 4,300 soldiers and civilian workers. Payroll losses would equal roughly $180 million, causing an additional 1,097 non-military civilian jobs to be lost over a four-county area.
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop of Columbus has urged his constituents to submit public comments for inclusion with the final Army report that underscore the important of Fort Benning both to the military and as an economic anchor for west Georgia.
In Hinesville, Mayor Jim Thomas said he and other elected officials are drafting a letter to Georgia’s congressional delegation to remind them of reasons Fort Stewart, home to the 3rd Infantry Division and the largest Army post east of the Mississippi River, should be spared from any cutbacks.
“The socio-economic impact is huge, but it’s a snapshot” of what might happen, Thomas said of the Army’s report. “Ultimately, the people who are going to make the decisions on this are not the Army, but it’s going to be the Congress.”