Shutdown is latest bad news for military towns

By Russ Bynum

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 2 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Daniel Clark talks on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, about how the government shutdown could hurt his business at Imprint Warehouse in Hinesville, Ga., by costing him sales to neighboring Fort Stewart.

Russ Bynum, Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — In eight years, Brian Kent has taken his military consulting business from the garage of his home to a premier office building with a view of Fayetteville's most gorgeous park splashed below his corner window. But his eyes Tuesday were glued to the TV on the wall and unfolding coverage of the government shutdown.

In military towns across the U.S., the political battles in the nation's capital are directly affecting the bottom line as military contractors and other small business brace for the worst — already forced to cope with mandatory budget cuts and promised reductions in the size of the nation's armed forces.

Now they're taking another blow, this time from the budget battle in Washington.

"Nobody is making any decisions in Washington for the whole year. This is nothing new. This is just a complete failure for 18 months," said Kent, whose company revenues have already dropped amid uncertainty over mandatory military budget cuts in 2012. "Our plans for expansion have been on hold for this whole year. If anything, we're making plans for contraction."

Kent is hardly alone in Fayetteville. As with large numbers of contractors and business operators in military towns across the United States, business boomed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one of the deepest recessions in decades made barely a ripple.

But storm clouds are gathering with planned reductions in the number of military members as the nation slows down its fighting. And the forced budget cuts of sequestration and the unknown effect of the government shutdown are only making people who depend on the military for their living even more nervous.

Kent's company made more than $10 million at its peak. Revenues have dropped the past two years below that mark. He provides technology support, medical training and medical equipment to the Army, as well as anything else he can give them. But the uncertainty of when he can get paid by the military means his company can't grow.

He recently told his landlord his business will have to move out of the premium office space he has been renting the past two years. That means Kent will lose his beautiful view of Festival Park, built in 2007 as military spending neared its peak.

Fayetteville's future is no doubt tied to the nation's fighting men and women. The Fayetteville Regional Chamber undertook a study in 2011 that found more than 37 percent of the region's business was related to the military.

"That number is both great and terrible at the same time. Think about Detroit and the auto industry," said Brandon Plotnick, marketing manager for the Chamber.

People in North Carolina used to call Fayetteville "Fayettenam" because it was once so stark, crime-ridden and ugly. When Kent came here in 1988, he didn't think he wanted to stay long.

But since the first Gulf War, Fayetteville has embraced the military and that has paid huge dividends.

Fort Bragg is home to four major military commands — the U.S. Army Forces Command; U.S. Army Reserve Command, the 18th Airborne Corps and the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Their combined reach extends around the globe. And to a large extent, their essential missions will remain open as Congress and the president argue.

Also, many of the base's Army units have been bolstered in recent years, benefiting from the 2005 base closures that occurred in other regions and ended up shipping units to North Carolina. The base has units commanded by 37 general officers, a concentration topped only by the Pentagon.

"We did not see the recession here," Plotnick said. "Soldiers kept coming through here, home prices remained stable."

There were a few signs of the shutdown on its first day. The new 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum was closed and a sign on Bragg Boulevard warned of reduced hours at an auxiliary gate.

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