America’s Top 10 Military Boom Towns

By    November 5, 2013

military boom towns

We all know members of America’s armed forces protect us and our freedom, but they do much more than that.

Members of the armed forces also make important contributions to their local economies every day. They buy lattes, clothes, shoes, books, movie tickets and more, and those purchases support local businesses. Military installations also buy lots of supplies and services in their communities, said Glen Weisbrod, president of Economic Development Research Group, an economic analysis firm in Boston.

Furthermore, these installations employ many civilian contractors, Weisbrod said. In some cases, the number of contractors is equal to the number of military personnel.

Areas with large numbers of military retirees see benefits as well, said Steve Nivin, director and chief economist at the SABÉR Research Institute, which has evaluated the military’s impact on the San Antonio economy.

military boom towns

“Those folks are receiving their retirement checks and spending some of that money locally,” he said. “They’re also a big source of skilled labor. Once they retire from the military, they’re still relatively young, and they’re highly skilled.”

Despite some closures in recent years, military bases still play a leading role in economies throughout the U.S. Some of those towns are booming—enjoying growth in population, per-capita personal income and gross domestic product, or GDP, a key indicator of an area’s economic health.

In honor of Veterans Day, we present America’s Top 10 Military Boom Towns. These are metro areas that, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, are growing the most in these measures and have a substantial military presence. They aren’t necessarily the largest military towns, but they are the fastest-growing. All figures for personal income and GDP have been adjusted for inflation.

Our ranking is based on data from 2009 through 2011. The data is weighted as follows: 40 percent for per-capita military GDP, 30 percent for per-capita non-military GDP, 15 percent for population growth and 15 percent for per-capita personal income.

1. Elizabethtown, KY, is a 30-minute drive south of Fort Knox, which isn’t actually where the U.S. keeps its gold reserves. That honor belongs to the United States Bullion Depository, which is adjacent to rapidly growing Fort Knox, an Army post. It’s also home to the new Army Human Resource Center of Excellence—the HR headquarters for the entire Army—and new barracks and a new high school. All that growth means more money in the local economy: Per-capita personal income grew from $36,500 in 2009 to $39,100 in 2011, an average jump of nearly 4 percent a year.

Fort Knox

Brad Richardson, president and CEO of the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce, which serves Elizabethtown, is keenly aware of the impact of the military on the local economy. The new Army Human Resource Center of Excellence is the largest office building in Kentucky, he said, and the second-largest building in the military—second only to the Pentagon. It also has created high-paying jobs.

“We’ve gone from a training facility and an armor school to knowledge-based jobs and administrative jobs, which has taken the average pay from $44,000 to $55,000,” Richardson said.

The chamber estimates Fort Knox has generated 80 percent to 90 percent of the area’s recent growth in personal income.

Average annual growth in per-capita military GDP: 17.00 percent

Average annual growth in per-capita non-military GDP: 6.33 percent

Average annual population growth: 2.74 percent

Average annual per-capita income growth: 3.51 percent

fort bliss

2. El Paso, TX, benefits from the Army’s Fort Bliss and the William Beaumont Army Medical Center, which together have an estimated economic impact of nearly $6 billion a year. Between 2001 and 2011, the military’s share of the El Paso area’s total GDP more than doubled.

Average annual growth in per-capita military GDP: 14.98 percent

Average annual growth in per-capita non-military GDP: 0.76 percent

Average annual population growth: 2.14 percent

Average annual per-capita income growth: 1.94 percent

Fort Stewart

3. Hinesville, GA, depends even more on its local military posts than El Paso does. Between the Army’s Fort Stewart, which is just outside town, and Hunter Army Airfield, which is closer to Savannah, more than half of this metro area’s GDP is tied to the military. The Hinesville area’s population and per-capita personal income have fluctuated over the past few years, but its economy as a whole has seen healthy growth.

Average annual growth in per-capita military GDP: 8.91 percent

Average annual growth in per-capita non-military GDP: 4.57 percent

Average annual population growth: -0.07 percent

Average annual per-capita income growth: 0.80 percent

Peterson Air Force Base

4. Colorado Springs, CO, is home not just to the U.S. Air Force Academy but also Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain Air Station and the Army’s Fort Carson, which is actually the city’s largest military base and largest employer. That strong military presence is the main driver of economic growth in the Colorado Springs area.

Average annual growth in per-capita military GDP: 7.86 percent

Average annual growth in per-capita non-military GDP: 0.37 percent

Average annual population growth: 2.30 percent

Average annual per-capita income growth: 1.56 percent

Fort Campbell

5. Clarksville, TN, is the only boomtown whose local military installation is, at least according to its postal address, in another state. The Fort Campbell post office is in Kentucky, so even though the majority of the base is in Tennessee, the Army base’s address is Kentucky. Clarksville shows its military pride even in its street names: One stretch of State Route 374, which forms a northern loop around the city, is known as Purple Heart Parkway. Another section is known as 101st Airborne Division Parkway, in honor of the Screaming Eagles, whose headquarters is Fort Campbell.

Average annual growth in per-capita military GDP: 4.61 percent

Average annual growth in per-capita non-military GDP: 3.78 percent

Average annual population growth: 1.46 percent

Average annual per-capita income growth: 2.77 percent

goodfellow air force base

6. San Angelo, TX, does not rely on the military quite as heavily as some of the other towns on our list. Less than 8 percent of its local GDP stems from military economic activity, and that share has declined slightly over the years. But that doesn’t mean Goodfellow Air Force Base is irrelevant to the economy by any means. Primarily a training base, Goodfellow is the largest employer in San Angelo.

Average annual growth in per-capita military GDP: 5.96 percent

Average annual growth in per-capita non-military GDP: 1.10 percent

Average annual population growth: 1.34 percent

Average annual per-capita income growth: 2.47 percent

shaw air force base

7. Sumter, SC, is home to Shaw Air Force Base, which has helped significantly boost the Sumter area’s recent economic growth. The Air Force’s largest combat F-16 wing, which provides combat-ready airpower, calls Shaw home.

Average annual growth in per-capita military GDP: 7.03 percent

Average annual growth in per-capita non-military GDP: 1.20 percent

Average annual population growth: 0.21 percent

Average annual per-capita income growth: -0.34 percent

Fort Benning

8. Columbus, GA, recently became Georgia’s second-largest city, and its economy has been growing, too. Thanks to nearby Fort Benning and its Maneuver Center of Excellence, both of which prepare soldiers for combat, per-capita military GDP in the Columbus area rose an average of more than 4 percent a year between 2009 and 2011 while non-military per-capita GDP was flat.

Average annual growth in per-capita military GDP: 4.07 percent

Average annual growth in per-capita non-military GDP: 0.00 percent

Average annual population growth: 1.44 percent

Average annual per-capita income growth: 2.10 percent

ellsworth air force base

9. Rapid City, SD, is the second-largest city in its state, too, and it’s surrounded by historic locations. Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial are southwest of the town; Deadwood sits to the northwest. Closer in are Ellsworth Air Force Base and National Guard Camp Rapid; those two posts helped per-capita personal income in the Rapid City area from $37,300 in 2009 to $40,100 in 2011–putting average annual growth at nearly 3.7 percent.

Average annual growth in per-capita military GDP: 2.55 percent

Average annual growth in per-capita non-military GDP: 1.08 percent

Average annual population growth: 1.27 percent

Average annual per-capita income growth: 3.69 percent

naval air station lemoore

10. Hanford-Corcoran, CA, doesn’t have the same number of high-profile sites as Rapid City, but it does have Naval Air Station Lemoore. Hanford-Corcoran is a two-hour drive from the Pacific Coast, which might seem an odd place for a naval base, but NAS Lemoore is a “master jet base” that hosts the Navy’s West Coast fighter planes, including Hornets and Super Hornets. Residents’ per-capita personal income soared nearly 6.5 percent annually from 2009 to 2011, but it’s not higher on our list because both population and per-capita military GDP have barely budged.

Average annual growth in per-capita military GDP: 1.04 percent

Average annual growth in per-capita non-military GDP: 1.79 percent

Average annual population growth: 0.49 percent

Average annual per-capita income growth: 6.48 percent

Photos courtesy of af.mil, army.mil, comilitaryreloexperts.com, navy.mil, rvtravel.com, sumtersc.gov, virtualtourist.com, wikimedia.org

 

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