Community leaders, post officials grapple with issue of growth
May 9, 2008
By Don Kramer
FORT LEWIS, Wash. (May 9, 2008) - Cooperation was in the air last week at a forum for community leaders from Lakewood, Tacoma and Fort Lewis to discuss the military installation's current and projected growth.
The half-day seminar on May 1, called "Fort Lewis: Community Impacts of a Growth Installation," attracted Washington governor Christine Gregoire to Clover Park Technical College to lend emphasis to how important she considers the impending issue.
Gregoire called Fort Lewis "a fundamental part of our economic structure in the state of Washington ... Military payroll in this (Pierce) county alone is over a billion dollars. As that person gets a pay check, they go out and buy in the community. That's literally double what it was just a decade ago."
But the governor said her interest goes beyond the economic impact of Fort Lewis on the state; her husband, a Vietnam combat veteran, reminds her constantly of the debt owed to service members.
"There's never enough attention paid, never enough done in welcoming home our military personnel and while they're away ensuring their families are secure, safe and their children are getting the best education they can get," Gregoire said.
In introductory remarks, Brig. Gen. Jeff Mathis, the I Corps deputy commanding general, said the assembled leaders would roll up their sleeves to talk about growth and how to best manage it.
Steve Perrenot, Fort Lewis director of public works, reported the installation has grown steadily since 2003, from a population of 19,000 Soldiers and 29,000 family members and is projected to reach 32,000 Soldiers and 50,000 family members by 2012, less than a decade later.
Since the surrounding communities suggested to the secretary of war during World War I that the community could support a military installation and predicted an ultimate contribution to the area economy of $5 million, growth at Fort Lewis has led to current payrolls, pensions, expenditures, subsidies and construction contracts of $3 billion, according to David Graybill, president and chief officer executive officer of the Pierce County Chamber.
"As other communities have seen the closure of military installations," Graybill said, "our community has consistently been a winner. Fort Lewis has become the second largest post in the Army."
The population of the installation pours billions into the economy and tests community services. The News Tribune reported the military's impact on Pierce County alone, quoting 2006 U.S. Census Bureau figures, that federal military and veterans spent nearly $2.8 billion, including just over $1 billion in active-duty pay.
It reported that about 13,000 military students attend surrounding districts' schools, joined by another 1,045 by next fall.
Panels assessed the impact of the installation's impending growth on local housing, transportation, educational institutions.
Perrenot said this summer will be a test of the projected troop- and family levels of 2012: several major units return from the war on terrorism within weeks or months, including the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the 4th Squadron, 6th Aviation Regiment and elements of the 864th Engineer Battalion.
A record number of ROTC cadets, approximately 6,000 will arrive for summer training called Warrior Forge, also bringing between 2,000 and 3,000 cadre members to train them.
Don Kramer: don.kramer1 @us.army.mil