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Loss of Letterkenny would hurt region's economy, study says

July 02, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Chambersburg, Pa. - If the Base Realignment and Closure Commission votes next year to close Letterkenny Army Depot, it will mean an acceleration in the loss of high-paying jobs that has already hurt the region, according to an economic impact study commissioned by depot supporters.

"It obviously will have an impact on wages in the county. It will have an impact on real estate. It will have an impact on jobs available for younger people, which could lead to a 'brain drain,'" said Jack Benhart, director of the Center for Land Use at Shippensburg (Pa.) University.

Benhart and fellow professors Brendan Finucane and Kurt Fuellhart conducted the study, which was commissioned by Opportunity '05, a committee formed two years ago to prevent further job losses at the depot.

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In 1970, 12 percent of Franklin County's work force worked for the federal government, a figure that declined to 5.5 percent by 1995, according to the study.

The losses accelerated after 1995 and the percentage of federal employees fell to 2.84 percent by 2000, according to the study. Those jobs were, on average, the highest paying in the county at more than $67,000 a year in 2000, Benhart said.

Closing Letterkenny would mean the loss of more than 2,200 jobs both on and off the depot, about 3.4 percent of the 66,000 in the county, which now has a jobless rate of about 3.3 percent.

The study concludes that personal income would drop 2.4 percent, or $82 million and the gross regional product would fall by $141 million to about $4.35 billion.

"An aging population and increasing focus on lower-skill, lower-wage sectors has already had a significant impact on relative income growth" since 1995, the study says.

The loss of the approximately 2,000 federal civilian jobs at the depot could lead to "an out-migration of people in their most productive years ... essentially brain drain," Benhart said.

Finucane said the impact would go beyond the loss of depot jobs. Companies that do business with the depot would be hurt, off-base income levels would decline and people would have less disposable income to support other businesses.

Through 2020, the value of real estate would be about $150 million lower than if the base remains open, the study predicts.

Opportunity '05 also has commissioned an analysis of current and projected workloads at the depot and a joint land-use study to gauge the effect of the depot on the surrounding community, according to Franklin County Area Development Corp. President L. Michael Ross.

The committee wants to show the Department of Defense that Letterkenny's missions should be expanded, not cut, Ross said.

Ross said the president will name the BRAC commission next March, the Department of Defense will make its recommendations in May and hearings will be held next summer before Congress votes in September.

"You don't want to be on that May list," Ross said.

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