Frank Bottorff saw a lot of familiar faces among the 50 government and business leaders that attended a luncheon Friday in Havelock for the North Carolina Military Affairs Commission.
Bottorff, the city manager for Havelock and former commander for Cherry Point, is also the NCMAC community coordinator for Cherry Point and FRC East.
Friday’s meeting was to hear input from the local leaders.
Most of them already knew that the Craven County base contributes $2.1 billion to the state’s economy annually and that it employed over 14,000 active duty military and civilian defense workers. They probably already knew that over 57,000 personnel, families and retirees are linked to Cherry Point across eastern North Carolina. The had also probably heard that Fleet Readiness Center East was North Carolina’s largest industrial employer east of I-95, employing 3,100 civilians and providing an annual payroll in excess of $266 million.
It’s what all the people that didn’t attend needed to know that concerned Bottorff.
“Next time, I want you all to bring an individual that hasn’t been involved,” Bottorff told the group at the Havelock Tourist and Events Center.
It’s a suggestion that went over well with Maj. Gen. Cornell A. Wilson Jr.(USMC-Ret), who is the military affairs advisor for North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory. Wilson was the highest ranking state official present at the meeting.
“It’s an outstanding idea,” Wilson said of Bottorff’s proposal. “I think it makes sure that your neighbor who may not feel as strong about the military kind of sees what the big picture looks like and gets a better view of what the military does for this area and for the state. To spread that word about what’s going on about the military is very important.”
Wilson said people need to realize that most North Carolina communities are affected by Defense Department funding.
“We looked at the military contracts across the state and about 87 counties benefited from military contracts,” Wilson said. “They need to be away of the impact of the military on this state. It’s about 10 percent of our economy, about a $46 billion dollar impact. Each county is pretty much benefiting from a DOD contract. It is important that they understand the importance of the military and its ability to support the economic viability of this state.”
Those dollars spread out beyond the military community.
“When you have a car dealership or a dry cleaners or something that’s impacted by the military leaving, you want to make sure that you’re a part of how we can sustain that business in the state,” Wilson said. “I think it’s important to have that increased awareness.”
Havelock Mayor Will Lewis said a lot of people don’t realize that military impact.
“A lot of people, if they don’t live next to it or feel it every day, they don’t necessarily feel like they are a part of it but I think everyone has a role to play,” Lewis said. “A lot of people in this region will be impacted if something happens to this base and I think getting that awareness out and letting people know that they do have a role, and if they’d like to, get involved. I think that’s where it’s going to benefit us.”
Greg Lewis, president of the group allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow, is chairman of the board of commissioners in Carteret County where Cherry Point is the largest employer.
“The economic engine of Cherry Point and the depot and how it affects not only Craven County but also the three counties around it,” Lewis said. “It is the largest employer in Carteret County. If you take a ten percent cut in workforce there, you’re going to hit every boat dealer, every car dealer, every restaurant in Carteret County, so it does negatively impact, potentially, the businesses in the adjoining counties.”
Lewis said that the high paying jobs at FRC-East have been threatened by recent national economic woes.
“Historically, you federal employee has been a sacred cow, but sequestration has changed that,” Lewis said. “I have personally gone out and talked to the people I know in Carteret County. These people are now genuinely concerned for their jobs. The base and the depot, for good reasons, they don’t involve in politics, for good reason. They don’t do a lot of one-on-one or top down communication about what’s happening in Congress, so it behooves us to be that voice because we’re able to do that and they’re not able to do that. It’s important that we get the message out about what the facts are.”
Getting the message out is vital, according to Sonny Roberts, another ACT board member.
“Education is the number one idea right now. People in the four-county area do not understand all that is going on and the more we can educate them the more involved they will get. We’ve still got our jobs cut out for us to educate the general public, even the ones that were here today. I think it’s great to expand it and to get more people in here to where we can get the education. We’ve got to do it or else we won’t make it.”
“We want to make sure that we are all pulling in the same director in protecting our military assets in North Carolina,” said Marc Finlayson, managing consultant for ACT. “The more friends we have in high places the better. The more we are in step with our partners at Camp Lejeune, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Fort Bragg, the Coast Guard Facility in Elizabeth City then the better off we all are. There is strength in numbers, and while we’re concerned about our own issues and affairs, we need to be good partners and we will.”