NEW BERN, N.C. — New state leaders understand the military’s value to North Carolina’s economy, the outgoing commerce secretary told chamber of commerce members in New Bern Wednesday.
“We raised the focus on military issues during the last four years, and it is good news that the new governor is coming down to Cherry Point next week,” said Keith Crisco, commerce secretary for former Gov. Bev Perdue, to about 60 people attending a New Bern Area Chamber of Commerce Military Alliance event at the Chelsea Restaurant.
Gov. Pat McCrory will be the keynote speaker at an Eastern Carolina Aviation Heritage Foundation gala at the Havelock Tourist and Events Center Jan. 25. He will be joined by Tom Burbage, executive vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Corporation, lead developer of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Crisco said, “It is important to be realistic about the federal impact of budget cuts” as they apply to Cherry Point air station and the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center East.
“While sequestration is a really bad word, we need to be prepared for some military cuts unrelated to that,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll come out better by doing our homework, making it a friendly military environment. We will still not be immune to some cuts, but if we do a good job, we’ll be better off than if we ignored the prospects.”
“With road access to Cherry Point, we’re doing that,” he said, referring to the planned Slocum Gate overpass to facilitate U.S. 70 traffic flow into and by the base during peak hours.
“We’ve taken some defensive action to prevent encroachment,” he said.
Craven County is presently working on an ordinance to prevent construction of tall structures that might interfere with flight paths and radar capabilities of military aircraft.
Pamlico County is facing the possibility of a wind farm, which Crisco, who has a home in Oriental, said came up during the question-and-answer session. “We need to know about that and make decisions with eyes wide open.
“We established an independent military foundation with members including retired military leaders — a lot of brains, some real leaders and amazing talent — who have decided to retire here in North Carolina,” Crisco said. “We can use them to help the strategic position of the state and have recommended that continue. I believe it will.”
From an N.C. Department of Commerce role, Crisco said, “It should help because of the economic impact. But the No. 1 thing is to keep it close to the governor. I believe they will.”
Crisco talked about the importance of FRC-East to the local economy, said Marvin Raines, chairman of the board of Craven County Committee of 100 and a member of Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow.
“We’d be hard-pressed to find a prospect, if we ever did have something happen to the depot,” Raines said. “He said he wouldn’t know where to start looking.”
“Think about what our state does to attract an industry that is nowhere near the size or pay scale of FRC-East,” Raines said. “I’ve been in real estate around here for 40 years and have seen the impact the base has. It’s been a pretty reliable employer over the years. I don’t see how the state cannot get behind it.”
Chamber Chairman Ernie Richardson III said he was aware of most of the points Crisco made because of the chamber alliance’s activities in promoting the Marine Corps and FRC-East and its members including Raines, Sonny Roberts and Hugh Overholt on the ACT and in active lobbying.
“The chamber is vitally interested in anything that affects Cherry Point and the Marine Corps or the Navy activities there and intend to do more as we find what we need to do,” Richardson said. “We’re there to do what is constructive to support the base in total and minimize what happens in the budget cuts. We all have friends in military and civilian work there.”
Overholt, a retired Army major general now with Ward and Smith law firm, said, “Crisco gave a really good talk from the perspective of supporting Cherry Point for the last four years. He understood the significance of the military to North Carolina better than any secretary of commerce I’ve worked with and continues to be a trusted consultant. We plan to utilize his talents in any way we can to protect the base, and he has pledged to help.”
Asked what he plans to do on leaving commerce department, Crisco said, “The new governor has talked about me helping in some areas, I have some other things I’m considering and I hope I’m going to be in Oriental more.”