Close call

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Close call
Military communities breathe a sigh of relief as they dodge the worst of cuts. Tourism continues to flourish on the coast where the film industry hangs on to business.

Even in a hooah town like Fayetteville, Maj. Gen. Rodney Anderson was a notable cheerleader during his two years as Fort Bragg’s deputy commander, punctuating his speeches with “America strong!” He’s no less enthusiastic three years after his military retirement in his new role at the Greater Fayetteville Chamber. Anderson is Fayetteville’s first black chamber president, and also the first former general to hold the position, a sign that the city is placing muscle behind its most well-known asset, a lesson learned the hard way in 2013 after local leaders allowed an Army comment period to pass by with no community remarks about proposed troop cutbacks. Anderson is undaunted. “The glass is almost full. It is full. We just need to drink.” The key, he says, is retaining the 6,000 soldiers who leave military service at Fort Bragg every year. “The military is our goldmine. It’s our goldmine for … attracting business because it has a perpetual workforce pipeline.”

Even as the Department of Defense trims its forces, North Carolina has been spared the worst.

The ups and the downs:

  • Fort Bragg, home to about 53,700 troops, will lose 842 soldiers by the end of 2018. Unknown are the number of civilian jobs that will be lost. Overall, the Army is cutting about 17,000 jobs.
  • The 440th Airlift Wing and its aircraft are safe, for now, at Pope Field at Fort Bragg, but it’s a smaller unit: fewer than 700, down from about 1,200 airmen and civilians at its peak in 2014.
  • Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro lands America’s new aerial refueling tanker, the Boeing KC-46A Pegasus. The fleet is expected to arrive in 2019.
  • The 8th Marine Regiment, originally headed for the scrap heap in the Corps’ original drawdown plan, is spared. The regiment is based at Camp Lejeune.

As the Army shrinks, it’s clear Fayetteville needs to diversify. Also on some minds is a $550 million plant Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plans to open in central Mexico next year to produce light truck and SUV tires. Officials with Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear have said that the new plant will add additional capacity to its existing pipeline. But it’s worth noting that the Fayetteville tire plant — which employs about 2,500 people — was built in the 1960s. Anderson, the chamber president, has high hopes for jobs in Fayetteville that would take advantage of soldiers’ security clearances and experience with drones and managing large numbers of people and equipment. A new career resource center at Fort Bragg could bring workers and employers together. Companies such as CVS Pharmacy agree to guarantee jobs for veterans before they leave the military. Fort Bragg agrees to let them train while still on the government dime.

Wilmington’s appeal for arts and music lovers sweetened when the Cape Fear Fine Arts and Humanities Center opened on Oct. 3. The 1,500-seat center is expected to attract many touring shows, such as the inaugural concert featuring Liza Minnelli and the North Carolina Symphony. Charleston, S.C.-based LS3P designed the center, which was part of a $164 million bond issue approved by New Hanover County voters in 2008. About $54 million in debt was issued in 2013 to pay for the venue. New Hanover should be able to afford the center: It is among six counties in the state with the highest credit ratings from Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s.
Lady Mary may be ready for her swan song on PBS’  Downton Abbey but her real-life alter ego has already moved on to the next project — in Wilmington. The TNT television network picked up Good Behavior with Michelle Dockery starring as a thief and con artist fresh out of prison. (What would the Dowager Countess think?) The drama means work for Wilmington-based crews who shot the pilot this fall. It’s a bright spot after a 25% film tax credit expired a year ago, sending film spending in the state down to about $50 million in 2015,  from $175 million in 2014, according to the Wilmington Regional Film Commission. The tax credit is gone, but in September, state lawmakers earmarked $60 million in grant funds for the next two fiscal years.

Photos by Cindy Burnham, Boeing, Cape Fear Community College and TNT.

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