JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – Local government leaders in the surrounding south Puget Sound area met with Joint Base Lewis-McChord leaders May 11 at the Eagle’s Pride Golf Course in DuPont for the first Elected Officials Council meeting of the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership for 2023.
Held twice a year, the EOC serves as a forum for collaboration between JBLM leadership and elected officials from Pierce and Thurston counties to foster outcomes that mutually benefit the military and civilian communities.
“All of you that are here and all that served in uniform are part of this community,” said Col. Phil Lamb, JBLM commander. “And we are passionate about making this entire community, not just the confines of Joint Base Lewis-McChord but the entirety of the south Sound, western Washington area, a better community for everyone.”
For the past several years, the SSMCP has been a driving force behind legislative efforts to gain grants and funding for projects that benefit the area. In 2022, the SSMCP helped prioritize funding for Interstate 5 improvements from Mounts Road to Tumwater, as well as funding for the Nisqually River Delta Project.
SSMCP members have also been supportive of military interests, most recently supporting legislation aimed at reducing barriers for military spouses transferring their out-of-state occupational licenses to Washington. According to Shelly Helder, senior consultant with governmental affairs, SSMCP members were instrumental in the introduction of House Bill 1009, dubbed the Military Spouse Employment Act, that seeks to ease those licensure barriers.
Maria Tobin, SSMCP program coordinator, said identifying barriers for military spouse employment would remain a focus of the organization moving forward, as higher costs of living in the area make it nearly impossible to sustain a household on only one income.
“It is absolutely imperative that we recognize that military spouse satisfaction is crucial for service member retention,” Tobin said. “It makes this an issue of national (military) readiness.”
The need for additional focus on the military community’s presence in the south Sound area was underscored as Doug Mah, with the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, introduced preliminary findings from a military economic impact survey that the SSMCP had worked to secure funding for. According to Mah, the survey findings show that JBLM presently contributes more than $8 billion to the state’s economy. Adding in an estimated 30,000 spin-off jobs affiliated with JBLM and tax revenue from the base, that figure climbs to $15 billion.
Bruce Dammeier, Pierce County executive, pointed out that a large number of local government leaders and mayors are military veterans, emphasizing the impact the military community holds with its civilian neighbors.
“So, you see the impact of our partnership,” Dammeier said. “It is wide, it is deep; it is in every aspect of our community. That is why this work by the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership is so important.”