Region must plan for loss of soldiers

Representatives from the Matrix Design Group said Monday that there is much work to be done in the region to overcome the economic impact of troop reduction at Fort Benning.

Matrix is a consulting firm working with the Valley Partnership Joint Development Authority and Columbus Chamber of Commerce to study the impact on the community of losing 2,800 soldiers, all of whom should be gone by the end of the summer. About 1,050 left in December.

The reduction is part of the Army’s plans to reduce its force from 490,000 to 450,000 soldiers.

In a move to reduce brigade combat teams, the 3rd Armored Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division has been cut to about 1,050 soldiers to create the 1st Batallion, 28th Infantry Regiment Task Force.

Sal Nodjomian, project manager and executive vice president of Matrix, said the region would be losing approximately 8,000 people, counting dependents.

“It’s a big economic impact,” he said.

After finishing its initial collection of data, Matrix had some draft recommendations, and Nodjomian presented them at a sparsely attended town hall meeting at the chamber headquarters. Final recommendations will come later.

Nodjomian said Georgia needs to develop an aggressive statewide installation analysis and advocacy strategy to identify opportunities for military mission and industry growth. If it won’t, then this region should analyze Fort Benning’s strengths and weaknesses to determine opportunities for local and state investment to enhance the post’s ratings in the event of another round of Base Realignment and Closure.

“There will be another BRAC,” he said.

The report said more economic diversification is needed in the area. “You can’t be a one trick pony,” Nodjomian said.

The report said the joint land use study done in 2007 needs to be updated.

Matrix representatives said Muscogee County property assessment provisions must be re-examined, and that there is little sales turnover because of the tax freeze.

“It kills the real estate market,” Nodjomian said.

He said while the area does a good job of getting soldiers ready for work in civilian life, it does not do a good enough job of providing them jobs here. There must be a strategy to keep veterans in the area, he said.

Nodjomian added that there must be better tracking of military impact aid for the school district.

A regional branding initiative was recommended.

An incubator/accelerator for start-up veteran-owned businesses was also recommended.

Other recommendations: the area must continue to work with local colleges, universities and training programs to develop the workforce of tomorrow; and the region must continue to advocate to the Army the need to eliminate, and reverse, where possible, the Army-wide personnel reductions.

Larry Gierer: 706-571-8581, @lagierer