By JACK SPENCER
Attention, communities on the newest Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list: Don't panic. Don't cancel your plans for a prosperous future. Don't waste your money on a lobbyist who promises to save your base, because he can't.
Instead, talk to leaders in communities that have gone through the process in years past. You'll find that, although initially painful, closings of outdated or unneeded military facilities don't keep local economies down for long.
A new study from The Heritage Foundation looked at prior base closures in three environments: Southern California, with its urban nature and heavy Navy presence; Indiana, less populated and with a strong Air Force component; and Alabama, more rural and primarily an Army location. It found that, in almost every case, communities that lost military facilities regained 90 percent or more of the displaced jobs and per capita income within six years.
They've done so thanks to forward-thinking local leadership that identified alternate uses for the facilities and enacted aggressive post-BRAC recovery plans.
The grandfather of all BRAC recovery efforts is purportedly the Portsmouth-Rochester, N.H., area. When Pease Air Force Base there closed in 1988, local leaders sprang into action. Today, few people remember the air base. But many do business at the Pease International Tradeport, and leaders from that area have advised officials elsewhere on how to recover from base closings.
Also, Williams Air Force Base in Mesa, Ariz., closed in 1991, is today Williams Gateway Airport, an international aviation and aerospace center and designated foreign trade zone.
Fort Devens in Ayer, Mass., another 1991 closure, has been transformed into a business campus with dozens of new tenants ranging from high-tech start-ups to Anheuser-Busch. The Charleston Naval Shipyard, BRAC class of '93, is now home to more than 100 private, local, state and federal organizations. Glenview, Ill., National Air Station, another '93 closure, is being developed into an upscale, master-planned North Shore community called The Glen.
England Air Force Base in Alexandria, La., has become the city's airport and a business campus for a variety of concerns. Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas, is now that city's airport, serving 7.2 million passengers annually. Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio has become a major logistics and distribution center and foreign trade zone.
Although local leadership is the key, Congress can help by doing the following:
UHold hearings on how communities have overcome past base closures. Help build confidence in communities that there is life after BRAC.
USupport the 2005 BRAC list. Rather than fight to keep facilities off the list, members of Congress should explain why BRAC is important and how they will help their communities respond.
UHelp communities on the 2005 BRAC list and those from past lists communicate. Encourage communities that have emerged from the process successfully to lend their expertise to those just now going through it.
History shows that most communities recover quickly from BRAC. It won't necessarily be easy, but good local leadership and a sound economic revitalization plan can go a long way to ease the sting of losing a base. And good leadership in Congress would go a long way toward convincing communities that BRAC is not about jobs -- nor should it be. It's about national security.
We have too much military infrastructure, and much of what we have is inadequate to our needs. As such, it's especially important that we not let unfounded fears of economic disaster hold up the BRAC process.
Instead of worrying about getting off the BRAC list, local leaders should focus on getting on with the future.
X Jack Spencer is a senior policy analyst for defense and national security issues at The Heritage Foundation. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.