Some $47 million new dollars will be spent in the Hattiesburg area this summer as 7,500 National Guard troops are trained for duty in Iraq at nearby Champ Shelby, according to the Area Development Partnership (ADP).
Approximately 4,000 members of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment of the Tennessee National Guard now at Camp Shelby — the cause of the ADP’s estimate of a $47-million impact — will be joined by some 3,500 members of the 155th Separate Armored Brigade in a few weeks. No estimate is yet available from the ADP on the additional economic impact of the these 3,500 troops.
Having so many troops arrive, with such short notice, is causing a flurry of activity at Camp Shelby and the outsourcing of food service and construction work.
The financial impact is also being felt across the board in Hattiesburg, from motels to rental units and from restaurants to Wal-Mart.
An $8-million contract for supplying food services was won by M&B Catering of Hattiesburg and is necessary “because the troops in the units being trained who would normally do all of the cooking and food service are themselves being trained,” Lt. Col. Ernie Shows, deputy commander/training site manager, said.
M&B Catering, which has 90 employees, added 150 more for Camp Shelby. They do the cooking in the base’s dining facilities.
Lt. Col. Shows said that feedback from the troops on the food that M&B supplies has been, “Positive. The food is good and there’s plenty of it.”
The tourism industry will benefit from this mobilization because motels are being asked to provide housing for the nearly 2,000 support personnel stationed at Camp Shelby during this period, the ADP said.
The lodging industry isn’t the only one to benefit from the economic impact. The military has been leasing apartments all around Hattiesburg. For housing venues rented or leased through the end of September, it’s estimated that $10.3 million has already been spent.
Camp Shelby officials said that if enough accommodations for soldiers and visitors can’t be found in Hattiesburg, the military will look outside of the city.
Capt. Charles Hollis Jr. said, “We’ll look in Laurel or down in Gulfport if we have to.”
And every evening, the base provides a shuttle bus that takes the soldiers to Wal-Mart. There are some 200 vehicles for the troops to use while they’re at Camp Shelby without their own cars.
As for restaurants and fast food outlets, the ADP estimates that some $5.5 million will be spent for meals in town.
On-base construction and renovation work includes: one-time expenses (upgrades: barracks, dining facilities, wall lockers, utilities)-$5.3 million; upgrading contracts (waste disposal, equipment rental, storage, sewing, personnel)-$16 million; and forward operations base (local start-up)-$500,000.
The boon for owners of motels and rental units in Hattiesburg will mean difficulty for others, particularly University of Southern Mississippi (USM) and William Carey College students returning for the fall term who need housing.
Not only will students find housing scarce, but the housing that is available will be some $30 to $40 a month higher, according to the Hattiesburg Tourism and Convention Center.
Hattiesburg has some 2,100 motel rooms but no figures are kept on the number of rental units.
“Because of thousands of troops being trained for overseas assignments, there are no units passing through Camp Shelby for their two weeks of training, as usual,” according to Lt. Col. Charles Phillips, deputy commander for mobilization.
Camp Shelby, with 1,305 employees, is the fourth-largest employer in Forrest County (behind Forrest General Hospital, USM and the Hattiesburg Clinic). The base’s regular annual economic impact on the area (before this summer’s influx of 7,500 troops) is some $60 million, according to the ADP.
This includes total annual local purchases of $37 million. The ADP also reported that some 84,000 soldiers pass through Camp Shelby in a normal year.
Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at email@example.com.