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Biz leaders developing plan to keep bases open

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When Fort Monmouth closed its base for good in 2011, thousands of jobs and residents went along with it down I-95 to Aberdeen, Md.

Sure, there are plans for redevelopment of the roughly 1,126 acres of land that now sit dormant in the Eatontown, Tinton Falls and Oceanport area — but those efforts will take time to materialize.

Sills, Cummis & Gross attorney Ted Zangari says the latest word from the nation's capital is that another round of base closures is on its way, leaving many to speculate whether the massive Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst will be next on the chopping block.

“This state cannot afford to lose a second base,” Zangari said.

The state is taking a proactive approach to make sure that doesn't happen.

Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-Cream Ridge) went as far last week as to introduce a resolution supporting McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and urging Congress to keep its doors open.

“We have already seen the impact a base closing has on our economy and the residents who work at the base and the businesses that rely on its operation,” Dancer said. “The area surrounding Fort Monmouth is still recovering, but there is no question of the adverse impact it had on people's lives and the commerce it provided.”

The numbers are staggering.

According to a 2013 Rutgers University report on the state's military and Coast Guard facilities for the New Jersey Council on Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs, the McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst base is the second-largest employer in the state and contributes roughly $3 billion to the state's economy each year. It also supports some 52,000 jobs that generate another $4.2 billion in wealth annually, the study found.

So what can New Jersey do to keep it from closing? Invest in and around them, Zangari says.

“Many of us believe that the best way to inoculate our existing bases from the possibility of being on the base closure chopping block is to continue to fortify those bases with technology companies on the ring road,” Zangari said.

He added that, especially given that the bulk of the state's bases are located within South Jersey, incentives are readily available to interested companies through last year's Economic Opportunity Act, which Zangari was instrumental in drafting.

Zangari was also the co-chair of a project-advisory committee that put together a 2013 Plan Smart NJ report on supporting the state's industry clusters, of which aerospace and defense was one. In the industry cluster, New Jersey ranks 16th in the nation for volume of direct employment and sixth in average wage of directly employed workers, according to the report.

“The more fresh capital investment that's being poured into and around a base clearly gives us a leg up and reduces the chances of being a victim of a base closure,” Zangari said.

It appears as if Gov. Chris Christie's administration is also listening since earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno announced the launch of the New Jersey Military Installation Growth and Development Task Force.

The task force, which will be comprised of members from the military, government and private sectors, will look to formulate a long-term plan for the growth and development of the state's military bases and Coast Guard installations.

Guadagno says the task force is not a reactionary approach to the threat of base closures, but rather a preemptive one designed to fortify what's already in place for the future.

“Right now, we believe these bases are strong,” Guadagno said. “We believe they're not at risk … We want to make sure these bases don't become at risk later on.”

In the next several months, the task force plans on visiting the state's bases and nearby businesses that rely on their viability.

Coming from Monmouth County, Guadagno said she personally felt the Fort Monmouth closure, adding that the impact of the base's shuttering has been felt by not just the military community there, but local residents as well.

“I've seen what has happened to the base in time,” she said.

While it's no secret McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is the largest of the state's bases and seemingly the most vital to its economy, Guadagno said the task force won't zero in on any one particular base, but rather take an encompassing look at all of them.

“We're looking at all the bases," Guadagno said. "We're not picking between our favorites.”

E-mail to: andrewg@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @andrgeorge

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Andrew George

Andrew George

Andrew George covers the Statehouse from NJBIZ's Trenton bureau. Born and raised in N.J., Andrew has also spent time as a reporter in D.C., Texas and Pa. His email is andrewg@njbiz.com.

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