Army movement could help or harm El Paso County

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Under one scenario the Pentagon is considering, Fort Carson would lose 8,000 soldiers — and El Paso County will lose an additional 8,000 jobs.

Under another scenario, the Mountain Post could see a net increase of 3,000 troops, and the county could see an equal rise in jobs.

The Army has committed to a “reduction in force,” known as “RIF” in military circles, that will reduce the number of active-duty soldiers from last year’s 562,000 to 490,000 by 2020.

The Army plans to achieve its goal through inactivating eight brigade combat teams and realigning other combat and service support units. Alternatively, the goal could be reached through inactivating some units and reorganizing others by adding a battalion and support units.

The move isn’t all that surprising, said Fred Crowley, senior instructor of economics at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and associate director of the Southern Colorado Economic Forum.

“That’s about how much they increased troop levels to fight two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “People have been expecting they would cut back as the wars wind down.”

Fort Carson is one of 21 posts internationally that could see a reduction in soldiers, based on the Army’s goal of inactivating combat brigades. But it’s one of only a handful that could actually see an increase in end-strength by 2020.

Losing soldiers

The loss of soldiers — and the secondary jobs that come with them — would be devastating, Crowley said.

“Local economists agree that the military is about one-third of the total economy here,” he said. “A loss like that would be catastrophic. It’s time we start diversifying the economy — as much as we love the military and want them here, we need to be less dependent on them.”

Bringing in other industries is necessary, he says, because the secondary jobs created from military presence are mostly lower-paying service jobs.

“The military brings in retail jobs, fast-food places, jobs for dry cleaners,” he said. “But it does more than just that — Realtors will get a bump, multi-family homes will see higher occupancy, doctors and dentists will see more patients.”

But absent those 8,000 soldiers, and nearly every sector will feel the pinch. School districts will have to determine new enrollment rates, and figure in a cut in federal dollars districts receive to educate military family members.

Apartment rents could drop, as fewer people seek temporary housing, he said.

“Our economy is so dependent on the military, it could be very hard to recover from a big loss in soldiers,” Crowley said.

Gaining soldiers

But it doesn’t have to be that way. According to the environmental assessment report, Fort Carson could gain 3,000 soldiers if a new combat battalion is created. That means jobs and security for the post.

And Fort Carson could easily be selected, Crowley said. In recent years, the military has spent millions upgrading housing, building a larger Post Exchange facility and constructing new facilities for the combat aviation brigade.

“They’re not going to back away from that investment,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. But that puts Fort Carson in a great spot to gain new missions.”

Fort Carson doesn’t have encroachment issues like some military posts near towns and cities. There’s plenty of “shoulder room,” Crowley said.

The military also has access to the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, which — even if it isn’t expanded — provides enough room to train on some of the military’s largest weapons systems.

“Not many posts have a lot of room like that,” Crowley said. “It’s a big plus for us.”

Local reaction

Leaders in Colorado Springs do have a chance to weigh in on the two scenarios listed in the programmatic environmental assessment, as the Army calls its report.

Local groups are formulating a response to the report, said Andy Merritt, chief defense industry officer at the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

“We’re working on something now,” he said.

And Stephannie Finley, who represents the Regional Coalition for Strategic Federal Action, said they were working closely with their federal lobbying group and the Business Alliance. “That’s on everyone’s radar,” she said. “We’re going to respond to this — it’s important to everyone in the community.”

For public comment

Read the report at: http://aec.army.mil/usaec/nepa/topics00.html

Send comments and questions to:

Public Comments USAEC, Attn: IMPA-AE (Army 2020 PEA), 2450 Connell Road, Building 2264, Fort Sam Houston, Texas 78234-7664

Email comments to: USARMY.JBSA.AEC.MBX@mail.mil

Comment deadline: Feb. 17

One Response to Army movement could help or harm El Paso County

  1. I’d really like to know when the city poloticians of Colorado Springs are going to figure out that their city was never meant to be anything but a military and tourist town. It has no true east-west trucking route. Most companies that they give incentives to leave after the first year or two when they realize the costs of shipping their products to Denver or New Mexico before it can go east or west.
    Instead of screaming about new business why not trully support what it has first and then look for others to come there?

    lycus blackthorn
    February 1, 2013 at 11:18 am