People in Mississippi still like baseball, hot dogs, apple pie — and the military.
“Mississippi is more traditional than other places,” says Bill McGlathery, Federal/Department of Defense/Congressional liaison for the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development. “They support the military very strongly, and are more patriotic than people in a lot of other areas.”
Being patriotic is only one good reason to support military facilities in the state. The facilities also represent a major industry with a huge economic impact. A total of 29,471 people including about 19,000 military and 10,500 civilians are employed at military installations in Mississippi with an estimated payroll in 2000 of more than $1 billion.
McGlathery works with the Mississippi Military Communities Council to provide support for military facilities in the state and to prevent base closures. The Mississippi Military Communities Council was created by executive order of the governor in 1997 in order to support Mississippi’s military installations and make the state less susceptible to base closures. The next BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) hearings are scheduled for 2003.
McGlathery believes the strong National Guard presence in Mississippi is one reason why there is so much support for the military in Mississippi. There are an estimated 12,369 people in the state in the Air National Guard and the Army National Guard.
“Each little community in Mississippi has people who live there who are in the National Guard,” he said. “Because of the National Guard presence, and the fact that Mississippi is still fairly patriotic compared other states, there is awareness of the large military presence in the state.
What is surprising is the total economic impact in terms of numbers of employees and annual payroll. It is a sizeable industry. We feel like defense is a very important part of the economy in Mississippi, and we want to keep it and grow it if we can. “
The Mississippi National Guard has units and armories in 90 communities, and employs more than 3,000 full-time personnel. In 1999 the guard received about $350 million in federal funds, and $7.6 million in state funds.
The biggest National Guard facility is at Camp Shelby where there are more than 1,000 full-time employees with an annual payroll of $36 million. Total local purchases are about $24 million and the total overall economic impact is estimated to be $63.5 million.
“That doesn’t include impacts from the 100,000 troops that train there annually,” says Susan Walker, vice president-Chamber of Commerce, Area Development Partnership, Hattiesburg. “This is the largest training site of its kind in the country. It is a very significant part of our economy here. We also have the Military Museum which attracts a lot of tourists.”
Keesler Air Force Base is the “big daddy” of the military installations in the state with 10,216 military employees and 4,158 civilian employees for a total annual payroll of about $478 million. The total annual economic impact of Keesler is estimated to be more than $1 billion.
Current construction projects at Keesler include six military construction projects costing about $87.1 million, 18 base operation and maintenance projects estimated at $8.5 million, $1.1 million in medical projects, and $29 million in family housing projects.
Many people might not realize that after Keesler the facility with the next highest payroll is the Naval Oceanographic Office and Oceanographic Command at Stennis Space Center which employs 49 military and 1,019 civilians for an annual payroll of about $103 million.
The Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport is the third largest military facility in the state with 3,600 military and 800 civilian employees for a total annual payroll $86 million.
Columbus Air Force Base is the next largest facility with 1,061 military employees and 1,202 civilians for a total payroll of about $73 million.
“It’s a major economic impactor in our community,” said Charleigh Ford, executive director, Columbus-Lowndes Economic Development Association. “It means a lot of jobs and a big payroll. They also purchase a lot of goods and supplies. From a pure economic standpoint, it is probably one of the bigger impactors in northeast Mississippi. Having said that, we also get so much from them just from having good people involved in our churches, schools and civic clubs. They are good neighbors. It is a win-win situation for us, and has been since about 1940.”
The Columbus Air Force Base is one of only three undergraduate pilot training bases in the U.S. And with a high demand for pilots in the Air Force right now, the position of Columbus Air Force base in future base closure hearings is expected to be good.
The Naval Air Station in Meridian also has a big impact on the local economy with 1,505 military employees and 827 civilian employees. The total annual payroll is $64 million. Between 3,000 to 4,000 students are trained annually at the Naval Technical Training Center, plus about 280 naval aviator students go through the facility each year.
“The military installations are one of our biggest employers,” said Maureen Lofton, assistant for governmental affairs, City of Meridian. “We have the distinction of being the only city in the country who has had its base put on the base closure list three times and was saved three times. People in Meridian and our entire area pulled together in an incredible effort to preserve the Naval Air Station and the impact it has on our community economically. “
Meridian also has Air National Guard and Army National Guard facilities.
Vicksburg benefits from a military presence due to the Waterways Experiment Station, a scientific research center that employs 1,285 civilians and nine military for an annual payroll of about $64 million.
Naval Station Pascagoula, the state’s newest military installation, has about 2,642 military and 115 civilians employed for a total annual payroll of nearly $60 million with total economic impact estimated at more than $100 million. There are currently five Navy ships and one US Coast Guard Cutter homeported at Pascagoula.
On the other end of the Coast, the Naval Research Laboratory of Stennis Space Center employs one military and 270 civilians for an annual payroll of about $22 million.
Also, the Air National Guard Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, one of only four such facilities in the country, employs 213 military and 92 civilians for a total annual payroll of about $15 million.
The impact of procurements for Mississippi defense contractors is also significant. Recently the Defense Authorization Bill that passed out of the Senate Armed Services Committee for fiscal 2001 included billions in funding for military programs and defense contracts in Mississippi.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) said he would encourage Senate colleagues to quickly pass the legislation when it comes to the Senate floor.
“When you consider both the military installations in Mississippi and the various military contracts ranging from aircraft and radar production to the stitching of military uniforms, defense makes up one of the largest industries in our state,” Lott said. “This bill will ensure that our nation’s ongoing defense needs will be met, and it also ensures that Mississippi-based military personnel and contractors will continue to play a pivotal role in America’s defense.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.