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New JBLM study reveals military community makeup and its impact on area economy

Photo credit: Alabama National Guard

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We know who you are -- in a good way. And you may recognize yourself in the most current demographic breakdown on what the military presence at Joint Base Lewis-McChord means to the regional economic picture and the community profile of the South Puget Sound.

A survey of 2,500 JBLM personnel shows that 44 percent of you are active-duty military, while 46 percent of the workforce at the bases is made up of Department of Defense employees. Of that total, 65 percent of you are male, while 75 percent of the overall sample is married. A majority of you, 28 percent, are age 35 to 44, while just 6.5 percent fall in the youngest bracket, ages 18 to 24.

Released in November, the survey is part of the study titled "JBLM Economic Impact Analysis." It was part of a joint research project by the City of Lakewood's South Sound Military and Communities Partnership, JBLM and the Milgard School of Business Center for Business Analytics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Results show the overall economic impact of the JBLM workforce on the South Sound in 2017 was approximately $9 billion. Yes, that's billion, with a "B."

Part of this comes directly from military consumerism in communities surrounding the bases. Whether it's at the grocery store, the bank or the coffee shop, in fatigues or civilian clothes, you are big economic drivers. You are our customers if we are a local real estate office, restaurant, gas station or car dealership.

Which communities benefit the most from this economic influx? The top five places JBLM workers choose to live, according to the study, are Lacey (14.2 percent), JBLM (13.5), Tacoma (9.4), Olympia (8.35) and DuPont (8.15). Of course, you're also in Lakewood, Steilacoom, University Place, Puyallup and Gig Harbor.

Once stationed here, 59 percent of you choose to buy a home, while 37 percent rent and three percent live in barracks on base, the survey found. In choosing an abode, 52 percent of you did so based on the commute to base, 39 percent on housing price and 28 percent on school quality.

However, it's not exclusively base jobs that buoy the regional economy.

"Economic spin-off describes the potential secondary economic effects of a project or development," explained Bill Adamson, director of Lakewood's SSMCP program. "In the case of this JBLM economic analysis, an additional 25,000 jobs in the South Sound are the result of JBLM's presence."

That presence affects all of us, directly or indirectly. Whether you're a longtime South Sound resident, a new civilian in the area, or are retired military yourself, the study results should help all of us recognize what you, the current military workforce, mean to our community.

In terms of educational background, the survey shows about 30 percent of you have a bachelor's degree, while 25 percent have a master's or doctoral degree. Around 40 percent of you stay in the area on average two to 10 years. Meanwhile, 30 percent stay here two years or less, while a whopping 29 percent stay for more than 10 years.

For many of you, it's even longer than that. Of transitioning servicemembers -- those retiring from service and going into the civilian workforce while at JBLM -- some 50 percent remain in the community, according to the study. It notes further that those who choose to stay do so for a couple of primary reasons.

Number one is the regional economy, which in the Pacific Northwest remains strong, and growth in the Seattle to Olympia corridor means abundant, high-quality employment prospects throughout the area.

Coming in second is the standard of living in the Evergreen State, with the cultural and recreational opportunities available here ranking very important. Those that remain here value raising a family in a wholesome environment with ample places to play outdoors, citing it as a key factor in their decision to stay put.

So other than gathering and analyzing demographic data and interesting facts, what is the broader implication of study results such as this?

"The study comprehensively explains JBLM's economic benefits to local communities -- a factor the Department of Defense weighs when making force restructuring decisions," noted the SSMCP's Adamson, himself a retired colonel.

That means when Congress reviews possible base closures in the future, results of the study will help bolster JBLM's case for remaining open.

"Outcomes of this economic analysis demonstrate the critical importance of JBLM in maintaining a stable regional and state economy," Adamson concluded. "We are now able to arm local, state and federal leaders with quantitative analysis that validate the importance of JBLM to this region and conversely demonstrates how this region contributes to national defense." 

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