Huntsville Sees Opportunity In Another BRAC

By: Huntsville Real Estate Expert Mike Manosky On February 4, 2012

This just in from The Huntsville Times:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s news that President Obama and the department will ask for another round of Base Realignment and Closures, or maybe two more rounds, sparked fierce opposition in Congress and alarm in many military-heavy communities.

But not here. The possibility of a BRAC as early as 2013 with another in 2015 is seen by area leaders as more of an opportunity than a cause for concern.

“We’re ready to go,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, sounding a theme. “I think we’ve all known that with shrinking budgets and everything else that there was a very real chance of another one. … We fully expected something to come out, whether it was a BRAC or a consolidation.”

The 2005 BRAC moved about 4,650 Army, Missile Defense Agency and other federal positions to Redstone Arsenal along with the new headquarters for the Army Materiel Command, the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command and much more. Battle said it is expected to create as many as 10,000 additional jobs in the region over the coming years.

Repeating that success would be good for the region and a hedge against possible program cuts, said Joe Ritch, longtime chairman of the Tennessee Valley BRAC Commission. The official deadline to complete the 2005 BRAC moves was only last September, and he said they’ve never really stopped planning for future rounds.

“I think we were a little surprised at 2013; I think that’s going to be the more difficult one to get through Congress,” Ritch said. “But if it’s 2013, we’re ready to go. If it’s 2015, we’re ready to go. And if it’s 2013 and ’15, we’re ready to go.”

The new BRACs would help cut the federal budget, costing some communities valued programs or even bases. But optimism runs high in Hunstville.

The 1995 BRAC, which brought Army aviation to the arsenal, and the 2005 moves have positioned the area well to prosper from another BRAC, said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. The region works together as an experienced team that can point to a successful track record, he said, and show defense officials how the Tennessee Valley can help them again.

“I am amazed at the amount of homework that this community does when it comes to understanding where our assets can make the biggest difference in helping the Army and the military accomplish their goals,” Finley said. “We’ve put ourselves in their shoes.”

Redstone Arsenal could, of course, lose something in a BRAC. The Army Ordnance Munitions and Electronics Maintenance School, 59th Ordnance Brigade and associated elements were moved from the arsenal in the 2005 BRAC. But Ritch believes that the losses would be more than offset by the gains.

And fears that we could lose some of the commands that just last year came here under the 2005 BRAC are baseless, he said.

“That would not make sense,” Ritch said. “The investments have been made, the returns are starting to come into place. That doesn’t make economic or military sense.”

Challenges ahead

The big 2005 BRAC also carried a price tag. Improvements to roads and schools are still being made to handle the additional traffic, students and families.

“The challenge continues to be funding,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Mike Gillespie.

Limited federal support is available for BRAC-related state and local projects. But much is now under way here, he said.

In the wake of the 2005 BRAC, highway and other improvement plans are in place, some funding has been secured, priorities are set and area governments are speaking with one voice as they meet with state lawmakers and others, he said. Unfortunately, budgets are tight and tax collections are down as everyone deals with a tough economy.

“I know Gov. (Robert) Bentley and the state are trying to gear up and get ready for one or more BRACs, if they happen,” Gillespie said. “We’re assured from the governor and from the highway director that when and as more funding becomes available we’re certainly at the top of the priority list. It’s just a matter of generating the revenue.”

“We are so much further ahead than we were with the last two BRACs,” Battle said. “We’ve got infrastructure in place, we’ve got road plans in place, we’ve got schools on the upswing.

“The track record shows that we have fulfilled all the promises we have made, plus more. And we’ve continued to work with the community and with Redstone Arsenal … through them being their best we become a success.”

Immigration law

One new concern is Alabama’s much-criticized immigration law, passed by the Legislature in 2011 and now facing legal challenges. Could it sway BRAC decision-makers?

“When you talk about liabilities? To me that would be a liability, whether real or imagined,” Finley said. “I absolutely am concerned about that.”

He said local officials have already heard from state legislators looking at areas of the law that need to be adjusted. He hopes they’re reaching out at all levels across the state.

Battle said no one he’s met with about BRAC and economic development has raised the immigration law as a problem. “That’s one of those issues that everybody is fully aware of. But they also let it work through the court systems,” he said, and will then decide if it’s a valid problem or not.

“The current form of the law, yes, it is a problem for our image and something that I hope (state lawmakers) materially repair,” Ritch said. “But I’m convinced, from what I understand, they are making changes to the law that need to be made. The faster the better.”

Meanwhile, Gillespie said the best way to address immigration, stereotypes and image problems is the “head-on” way employed during previous BRACs: Get people here to see for themselves.

“Invite people who are making those decisions into the community, get a feel for who we are, what we have to offer, see our quality of life, see what education is about, see what impact that immigration law has had on the community,” he said. “We generally come out well ahead of others on every issue. And that’s why we’ve been so successful.”

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