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Organization: Fort Drum created hundreds of millions of dollars in indirect economic impact for community

The soldiers of the 63rd Ordnance Battalion (EOD) gather as a battalion one last time following the 63rd EOD's inactivation ceremony at Fort Drum on January 19, 2017. The soldiers will remain at Fort Drum, dispersed into ordnance and chemical companies.

LIANE SCHMERSAHL/U.S. ARMY

By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: March 9, 2017

WATERTOWN (Tribune News Service) — Beyond direct pay and construction on post, the activity of Fort Drum and its soldiers created an additional $386 million in economic value to the north country, along with about 6,300 jobs that advocates say exist as a result of the military’s presence.

The Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization said that when combined with its calculation of the direct activity, the post had an impact to the region of $1.63 billion. The healthcare, retail, education and construction fields saw the most hirings indirectly connected to the post’s activity.

In searching for indirect effects of the post’s presence, the FDRLO figures are seen as a way to show the impact of the post when talking to lawmakers.

“Beyond the dollars, we have a very valuable partnership that’s going to help me when I talk to our people in Albany or talk to our people in Washington and talk about what Fort Drum means to increase its value not only to our area, but the military and our national defense,” said Brian E. Ashley, FDRLO executive director.

The FDRLO statistics, produced by the Economic Research Group from Boston, were unveiled at a press conference on Tuesday. The 2016 figures are an increase from the $377.9 million in indirect economic activity and 5,973 jobs sustained as a result of the post’s operations in the 2015 fiscal year.

The civilian advocacy group’s report comes after Fort Drum statistics showed a fifth straight year of direct economic impact declines.

In that time, the post’s direct value to the community has fallen from $1.44 billion in 2012 to $1.18 billion in 2016, about 17 percent.

The direct impact decline coincides with the post having its lowest number of soldiers since 2005, a result of planned Army reductions along with federal budget cuts.

David J. Zembiec, FDRLO treasurer, said that though direct spending and soldier levels were down, the increased indirect impact for 2016 was due to a lack of deployments, which kept both soldiers and families in the area.

“More families stayed locally; more of that money was staying in the local economy and being spent here,” he said.

Mr. Zembiec said he saw the post’s soldier population at a stable level into the future.

Robert D. Ferris, who owns Big Apple Music in Watertown and Extreme Rides by Big Apple in LeRay, said he’s seen more interest from new businesses looking to cater to the military community, creating new hirings and economic benefits.

“These are all jobs that are going to be coming in that didn’t exist,” Mr. Ferris said. “Fort Drum is very important. They wouldn’t open it if they didn’t see the need or an ability to make money out there.”

Mr. Ferris said that though a higher level of soldiers would increase his profitability, the more stable number of local soldiers currently is helpful for making future plans for his business operations.

Though the trend for post spending and soldier levels has been declining in the last five years, there is some optimism that President Donald J. Trump will increase military spending, some of which could find its way to the north country.

If that was the case, Mr. Ashley argued the area could handle more locally-based troops, along with more training of Guard and Reserve military units from across the region.

“The sky is the limit in what Fort Drum can provide in terms of opportunity,” he said.

©2017 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)
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