JACKSONVILLE, N.C. --
In retrospect of the Marine Corps' recent proposed drawdown and Onslow County's shift in economic development, area officials, business leaders and residents came together to participate in the first of a three-part forum on growth issues in the area at the Jacksonville City Hall council chambers, March 23.
The forum, which was sponsored by Progress Energy and the Jacksonville Daily News, was a conduit of disseminating information about real estate, Census data and several important construction updates. Toward the end of the forum, the audience was allowed to share specific questions they had with the some of the officials.
Maj. Gen. Carl B. Jensen, commanding general of Marine Corps Installations - East, gave insight on the commandant's plan to ‘rightsize' the Corps and remain a ‘middleweight force', as well as how the base is spending roughly $2 million a day on bachelor enlisted quarters, child development centers and other necessary construction aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station.
Jensen said the forum allows the different leaders of Onslow County to facilitate information and answer as many questions as possible to prevent confusion or discontent.
"The importance of the forum is just sharing information," said Jensen. "As we move into an arguably uncertain future, with regards to the specifics associated with the force structure drawdown, we just need to be as transparent as we possibly can. We need to have a common understanding of what's going on as we move into the future."
Jensen added that the base is currently undergoing construction and will be into the next few fiscal years. A much-needed increase in CDCs and bachelor enlisted quarters aboard both Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River, representing a first ever 45 percent increase in capacity.
Another one of the Corps' plans is to do away with having more than two-man rooms in the barracks to increase quality of life and frugality, as prescribed by the commandant. The BEQs will increase from a total 96 to 128 barracks, housing just under 29,000 single service members aboard the bases in 2013.
Ken Brandon, with the Jacksonville Board of Realtors, shared an overview of single family re-sale and new construction sales figures.
These figures have long been affected by the Corps' initial increase to 202,000 troops, and will definitely impact the area after it reaches its goal of decreasing to 187,000. About 40 percent of the decrease will be from the Camp Lejeune area alone.
"The Marine Corps keeps the market transient - people are coming and people are going constantly," said Brandon. "But in other areas, they may stay in a particular home for a long period of time. I do think that we're at the point where inventory is starting to increase. I'm no economist, but it's all about supply and demand, and we have an excessive amount of supply but less and less demand. With the drawdown the general spoke of, it won't take (a lot of service members to leave the area) to impact our local market."
Elliott Potter, associate publisher and executive editor of The Jacksonville Daily News, who led the questions and answers portion of the forum, said the area is experiencing a time of change and transition.
"A lot of times when you have that situation, there can be a lot of misinformation that goes out," said Potter. "The people that we have here were in a position to clarify that and I think they did a good job doing it."
Other officials of the county also took time to express the significance of the relationship between the area and the service members that call it home.
"The relationship between the base and outside the gate is vital," said Mona Padrick, president of the Jacksonville - Onslow County Chamber of Commerce. "We are interdependent upon one another because the military here is our economic engine. What affects one affects the other and we have to work together so that everyone is taken care of. We can solve issues and celebrate successes together."
Padrick added that in the last few years, the city and the area bases and stations have been in the middle of the ‘growth issues.'
"When the Marine Corps initially (increased its numbers), it affected all areas of our community," said Padrick. "It happened so fast and we're still catching up now. Aboard the base, construction is still going on and still will be for the next few years."
Padrick said that even though the city has greatly been impacted by previous growth issues, it remains ready and willing to take any challenge that it may face.
"People may not think so, but within the next few months and years, it will be much better," said Padrick. "Now, as the Marine Corps downsizes, I'm sure we'll be affected in some way. This community, however, which has always been very flexible, we will come up to the challenge again. I think it will be an interesting, exciting time as we move forward down the road."
The second of three forums, which will be on transportation and other infrastructure, is slated for sometime in April.
For more information about the growth series forum, visit the website jacksonvilleonline.org.