Putting post’s economic impact into perspective

The next round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decisions isn’t expected until between three and five years from now. But in terms of planning large-scale economic and political projects, that’s not much time at all.

Which is why there was a sense of urgency at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center a couple of weeks ago, when Columbus, Fort Benning, the NIM and the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce played host to members of the Georgia House Military Affairs Study Committee. When it comes to marshaling forces to defend Fort Benning from the harshest of the coming cuts, time is alarmingly short.

As detailed Friday in business writer Tony Adams’ in-depth follow-up report, chamber Vice President Gary Jones has put the economic impact of Fort Benning in a context that makes the issue clear.

Jones shared a PowerPoint presentation that used numbers from three of the community’s most important economic engines — Aflac, Columbus State University and Total Systems — to make the point. All told, those three local institutions combine for 9,722 jobs and annual salaries and buying power of more than $570 million.

By contrast, planned “sequestration” cuts to the Pentagon budget in the next fiscal year could involve the loss of 9,493 Fort Benning soldiers, 4,366 civilian workers, and total salaries and buying power of $627 million.

President Brian Anderson said the chamber has cut some $400,000 in overhead, which is roughly what is being spent overall in this area for consultants with connections to — and maybe even more important, understanding of — Washington and Pentagon decision makers.

Former VA secretary and now private consultant Tony Principi told the gathering, as reported in an earlier story, that military cities like this one need to focus right now on making the case for the local installation as vital to U.S. military interests.

From that perspective, the people with Pentagon and Capitol Hill savvy could be the difference makers.

We all value Fort Benning as a neighbor and century-old source of patriotic pride; as an integral part of this community; and of course as a foundation of the local and regional economy.

What people in Washington and Arlington are going to care about is its cost relative to its importance for U.S. defense needs in the years to come. Making a convincing case for the latter looks like the best way of protecting the former.