By Lt. Gov. Mike Stack
The recent disclosure of Pennsylvania’s multi-billion-dollar attempt to lure Amazon to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia has touched off a lively debate among business leaders and community groups over the wisdom of handing taxpayer money to wealthy corporations in the hope of providing prosperity and prestige.
This discussion should include some examination and discussion of how Pennsylvania defends the jobs we already have while we try to attract new ones.
The Amazon prize was certainly attractive: 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment. The offer was equally eye-popping: $4.5 billion over 20 years and $100 million in infrastructure investment.
As chairman of Pennsylvania’s Military Community Enhancement Commission, I believe that a fraction of that investment could be more successfully used in protecting and expanding one of our leading employers: the Department of Defense. Our 12 major installations and dozens of smaller facilities across the state provide more than 52,000 direct and indirect jobs to our economy and $11 billion in total economic output. Each installation is among the largest and most stable employers in the county where they are located.
In stark contrast to the Amazon offer, Pennsylvania’s relatively small financial commitment to preserving these jobs has been uneven and lagging far behind competing states.
This is perhaps due to the complacent feeling that any BRAC action is far off, but recent events bring the importance of this mission – and the funding that supports it – into focus.
I was honored to participate in the effort to redraw Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered congressional districts in time for the recent midterm elections. But the result, while a great win for progressives, will be a loss of half the seniority for Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation. Retirements have cost us two members of the Armed Services Committee and an appropriations sub-committee chairman for military spending.
If soaring deficits touch off another BRAC round, Pennsylvania will be running in sand.
PMCEC works with local organizations across the state to make our installations the best they can be and then to make that case when the time comes. As part of that mission, the commission recently partnered with the University of Pittsburgh to compile what we call a SWOT analysis of our military installations.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The object is to mitigate the threats and take advantage of the opportunities.
All this economic activity is constantly at risk, as the report also says the Department of Defense has 20 percent more real estate than it needs. If a new BRAC round comes, the competition to not be part of that 20 percent will be fierce.
This is not a new story for the Philadelphia region. Realignment in the 1990s cost the city thousands of jobs with the Navy Yard and Willow Grove Naval Air Station closures. Today, the Naval Support Activity facility, 700 Robbins Ave. in Lawndale, still provides more than 4,500 jobs. These employees are deeply involved in their local community.
Including indirect impact, such as supply chain, activities at NSA Philadelphia generate 7,533 jobs, and more than $600 million in economic output, most of it generated within the city of Philadelphia.
The Northeast has some advantages in maintaining this workforce, including its proximity to northeast corridor transportation infrastructure and a large, diverse labor force.
There will be, however, challenges. There are limited expansion opportunities on site, and the smaller Navy presence in South Philadelphia could give the DoD the idea to consolidate elsewhere.
While the NSA Philadelphia workforce is experienced and skilled, that also means retirements are looming. Close coordination with local education institutions will be required to provide the qualified workforce the federal government requires.
Our SWOT study says the Local Defense Group for Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, along with the PMCEC, defended the region well in the 2005 BRAC round, but their efforts remain largely focused on developing new uses for the Navy Yard, suggesting that a sub-group focused on the NSA facility could be of use.
Sitting still is not an option. We need to match the zeal to land Amazon with an effort to preserve the good family-supporting defense jobs we already have. ••
Lt. Gov. Stack, a Somerton native and former captain in the Pennsylvania National Guard, chairs the Pennsylvania Military Community Enhancement Commission.