I have seen a little buzz on Facebook, especially from young entrepreneurs, who are advocating for Columbus to begin a weening process to minimize its dependence on Ft. Benning and to move toward attracting new big businesses and to support small- to mid-sized businesses instead. I understand why someone might make this point, especially if they view Ft. Benning as simply a military base.
It makes more sense to see Ft. Benning as a defense industry. COL (Ret) Gary Jones, executive vice president of military affairs, puts it this way: “The state of Georgia has a $22B (yes, billions) industry. It is the United States military.” Columbus’ piece of that ginormous pie is $5B, as a local “employer” (direct jobs and support jobs) of 41,000 people! This latest Sequestration issue could cost Ft. Benning 14,000 jobs.
Want to get a good local feel for what losing 14,000 would look like? I can’t do that, because I don’t have the math at my fingertips. But I can show you what losing 9,200 jobs would do to us. Imagine losing Aflac, TSYS and Columbus State University by September, 2017. Can you even fathom the amount of money, effort and time that would have to be invested to replace those three companies in a market the size of Columbus, Ga.?
I asked Gary Jones about the last time there was a significant draw down at Ft. Benning. It was right after the Vietnam War that the Department of Defense drew down the uniformed services. After a time the numbers stabilized and beginning in the late 80s and through the 90s till today, the military industry has grown. “In 2006, I briefed the governor and representatives from what is now called the Georgia Department of Economic Development on the importance of our state seeing the military as an $22B industry.”
Unless you were alive and in business in our region in the mid- to the late-70s, there is no way to get a feel for what a substantial reduction in force at Ft. Benning would bring. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to ever see that reduction take place. Losing a big chunk of Ft. Benning couldn’t be replaced in my remaining lifetime. Everyone’s businesses would suffer. Just as a rising tide floats all boats, a falling tide sends them all down. I want to look back at myself after this is all said and done and to judge whether I did everything within my power to do my part to keep Ft. Benning intact.
This is my first effort, on this subject, to earn my own respect — my personal affirmation when I look into the mirror every morning to shave. Regardless of your political leanings, having a thriving community of a few mega companies and a swelling legion of cool, new businesses (retail, restaurant, arts, entertainment and sports) is something I hope we can all get our head and our arms around. A healthy Ft. Benning would all but guarantee that.
Last night Jill and I attended the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s “Christmas in July” party hosted by the Hall Booth Smith law firm. It was a great event! The firm’s great, new offices on Front Avenue in the historic W. C. Bradley Co. building were on display as was a healthy dose of enthusiasm from Chamber staffers, executives and attendees. We got a chance to talk again with new Chamber President Brian Anderson and to reaffirm to him our commitment to keep selling this community in the pages of our magazines, our social media, my blog and our web pages.
If ever there was a time to speak out, the time is now. Yes, I would like to see our region attract new industries and businesses and lessen our dependence on the huge industry that is Ft. Benning, but I would hate to try and do that without the dollars and the culture that Ft. Benning brings to our region. Those dollars add up to a staggering $627,000,000 per year in this market. I hope you’ll do your own research and ultimately be able to get behind our Chamber, our city and the businesses we all own and support by speaking out, signing a petition and encouraging others to support our largest industry.