Miami-Dade area woos AFRICOM ahead of move
STUTTGART, Germany — Economic development and government officials in Miami-Dade County, Fla., are trying to attract U.S. Africa Command headquarters to the Sunshine State in a bid to add jobs and further cement the region’s status as an enduring military hub.
“So far the feedback has been pretty good,” said Diana Gonzalez of the Beacon Council, an economic development group that successfully lobbied to move U.S. Southern Command’s headquarters from Panama to Miami in 1997. “No one has told us to go home and stop thinking about this,” Gonzalez said.
The Defense Department is expected to decide by 2012 whether AFRICOM will remain in Stuttgart.
“What we are doing is trying to ensure that when the time is right, when the decision is about to be made, we are able to ensure that Miami and south Florida stand a very good chance in the relocation of the command,” said Fred Oladeinde, president of the Foundation for Democracy in Africa, an advocacy group that is part of the team recruiting AFRICOM.
Currently, U.S. military programs in the greater Miami area, primarily through SOUTHCOM and Homestead Air Reserve Base, generate nearly $4 billion in economic activity for Miami-Dade and produce 47,000 jobs, Gonzalez said. AFRICOM would bring an annual budget of about $300 million and a staff of 1,300.
AFRICOM stood up in October 2008 in Stuttgart, which also hosts the U.S. European Command. Most of Africa had been under EUCOM’s jurisdiction, so it made sense to launch the command in the same location. But speculation about an eventual AFRICOM move has never gone away.
Initially, discussion centered on moving the command to the African continent, but that talk has since died down.
In 2008, lawmakers from Georgia and South Carolina were courting AFRICOM. That prompted Defense Secretary Robert Gates to delay any decision until 2012 so AFRICOM could focus on its new mission.
But public campaigns for AFRICOM are heating up again.
In some ways, south Florida could be a natural fit for AFRICOM. The command shares many similarities with SOUTHCOM, which oversees Central and South America. Both have been at the forefront of blending military and civilian personnel and agencies. The two commands also could share resources, much like AFRICOM now does with EUCOM, including various family support services.
The Miami task force is now compiling a report to submit to the Pentagon, much like it did in the bid for SOUTHCOM, which outlines all the infrastructure available and the strategic advantages of placing AFRICOM in Florida, Gonzalez said.
There are downsides, though. Europe shares a time zone with much of Africa, but Miami would be a half-day behind its African partners. Direct commercial flights to major African cities also are easier to come by from Europe. There are no direct links from Miami.
But the task force is in talks with airlines about establishing routes to Africa, Gonzalez said.
During testimony earlier this month on Capitol Hill, AFRICOM commander Gen. William E. Ward, responding to a question from Rep. Joe Wilson — a South Carolina Republican hoping AFRICOM will eventually move to Charleston — said quality of life would be part of the headquarters location decision.
However, the general gave no indication one way or the other whether he thinks AFRICOM should pack up for a stateside move or stay put in Stuttgart.