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Fort Jackson, Midlands enjoy economic, family bonds

Students march to honor veterans

Children at Congeree-Wood Early Childhood Center had a patriotic parade at school to celebrate Veterans Day
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Children at Congeree-Wood Early Childhood Center had a patriotic parade at school to celebrate Veterans Day

Editor’s note: Fort Jackson is in the middle of a yearlong Centennial celebration that will culminate in June. For this Veterans Day weekend, The State is providing special coverage of the fort and its impact on the Midlands. Look for more coverage on thestate.com later this week. On Friday, we write about five businesses or organizations that benefit from the fort. On Saturday, learn about the former commanding generals who retired in the Midlands and worked to make the region better. On Sunday, read about plans for a Centennial park on the base.

Fort Jackson’s far-reaching impact on Columbia and its economy has been validated in everything from thwarting big-time U.S. defense cuts to being a tool in promoting the Midlands as an ideal place to live and retire.

Fort Jackson – which is in the middle of a yearlong celebration of its centennial – pumps more than $2 billion a year into the Midlands economy, where it accounts for 17,000 jobs locally and nearly 20,000 jobs statewide.

That makes the fort, the Arrmy’s largest basic training center, a vital cog in the local economy.

It also is an important cog in the overall $15.7 billion economic impact the military exerts on the Palmetto State each year.

“One of the benefits of having a strong military presence in the state from an economic standpoint is it introduces new spending activity to the state and to Columbia that wouldn’t exist otherwise,” said Joey Von Nessen, USC chief research economist.

USC’s Moore School of Business produced a 2015 study on the economic impact of the military in South Carolina, which might be updated as soon as next month, Von Nessen said.

Economic impact from a military base such as Fort Jackson is generated when the fort purchases goods and supplies from vendors and contractors across the state.

In this case, about 90 percent of purchased goods and supplies come from Columbia, making the fort’s major impact overwhelmingly local, Von Nessen said.

“These are federal dollars that are coming into our local community in Columbia. Those are being spent, those are creating jobs and incomes, not only for the active duty military and reserve, but also for civilians through the economic multiplier effect.”

Those federal dollars also create tax revenue for the state of South Carolina, Von Nessen said.

Nearly 100 years ago, when the country faced inevitable entry into World War I, the fort was established on 1,200 acres east of Columbia to train and prepare young men for combat.

According to historical accounts, Camp Jackson, as it was initially named, was transformed overnight into a huge military base where 8,000 young draftees arrived for training to go to battle in a war that drew in all the world’s great economic and military powers.

Nearly two decades later, more than 500,000 soldiers were trained for combat in World War II. Since then, soldiers were trained at the fort for every major U.S. conflict, including Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf. In between those conflicts, soldiers trained at Fort Jackson helped keep the peace.

A little more than two years ago, South Carolina’s top military, political and economic leaders pointed to Fort Jackson’s $2 billion economic impact on the local area in a largely successful attempt to dissaude Congress and the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission – commonly called BRAC – from eviscerating the state’s military installations.

Fort Jackson’s impact is not confined to Columbia, and it goes beyond economics.

The fort and Columbia have inextricable connections that span economic, civic, social and community relationships, according to former Columbia Mayor Bob Coble.

“The partnership between the city and Fort Jackson goes back 100 years – to the creation of Fort Jackson,” said Coble, who served as mayor from 1990 to 2010. “Two things always stood out to me. One, the city fathers in 1916, 1917 realized the economic impact of Fort Jackson.

“The other thing is, we’ve always had a very close relationship between the fort and the city that really has sustained us through BRAC. That’s one of the best assets we have – the city of Columbia loves the Army and loves them being here.”

In 2005, when the Army held its last round of base closures, Columbia’s solid, familial relationship with Fort Jackson was one of the biggest selling points put forward in dissuading the commission from making proposed drastic cuts to the fort’s local footprint, Coble said.

“Some communities don’t have that. It’s not as favorable. And I think that was one of our very strong selling points.”

So, the bond between Columbia and Fort Jackson has more practical aspects, Coble said. “It involves spouses finding jobs. It involves children going to school. It involves feeling welcome in a community.

“All those things,” the five-term mayor said.

About Fort Jackson

With World War I raging in Europe, many Americans in 1916 believed the United States would soon be drawn into the fight. Many also saw that the country was unprepared for war. Among the most pressing needs: training camps for soldiers.

Columbia Chamber leaders thought their city would be ideal for such a camp. So they proposed to the Army that land formerly owned by the late Wade Hampton be selected for training. The chamber led a fundraising drive that quickly raised $59,000 to purchase the property east of Columbia from the Hampton estate, according to a history of Fort Jackson prepared for its 50th anniversary.

On May 19, 1917 – just a month after Congress declared war on Germany – Maj. Douglas MacArthur announced that one of the Army’s 16 new camps would be constructed near Columbia. “Columbia put up a good fight for the camp, and deserved to win,” The State newspaper reported.

In June of that year, a contract was awarded to Hardaway Contracting Co. of Columbus, Ga., to build the camp. During the next six months, Hardaway built 1,519 buildings at the camp, including theaters, stores, barracks, training facilities, stables and garages, according to the 50th anniversary history. An airfield also was built, and railroad lines were laid.

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