- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2006

PETERSBURG, Va. — Real estate broker Mike Mahaney can already hear the troops marching on Fort Lee.

He’s getting calls from the military men and women moving to the base because of an expansion announced last year by the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

“We can feel them coming now,” said Mr. Mahaney, who has been in real estate for 33 years and has an office in nearby Hopewell. “And we can already see that with the number of people inundating the area, there are more people than places to put them.”

The base, 25 miles south of Richmond, is expected to gain 7,344 persons, essentially doubling the total at Fort Lee. Military and planning officials say most will begin arriving in 2009.

The community can also expect more than 4,400 private jobs to be created for base support, said U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican.

The soldiers will bring a much-needed boost to an economically depressed area, but they also bring new challenges: families that need schools, housing, child care and jobs.

“It is a pleasant problem to face, given that the alternative could have been much, much worse,” said David Canada, Petersburg’s city manager.

The alternative would have been removing jobs from the 5,850-acre base just east of the city, and that would have been a tough blow to an already struggling region.

January’s unemployment rate for the area was 4.9 percent — down from 5.9 percent in January 2005 but still nearly two percentage points above Virginia’s rate, one of the country’s lowest.

Fort Lee, which trains Army support personnel ranging from supply clerks to cooks, contributes about $862 million to the local economy.

“It is the economic engine in our region and will continue to be an even larger one,” said Dennis K. Morris, executive director of the Crater Planning District Commission. “Fort Lee has the potential to transform our economy in this region.”

Central Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood had a similar experience during the 1995 realignment, essentially doubling its force.

Ron Selfors, then-deputy garrison commander, said the fort’s annual economic contribution went from $800 million to $1.2 billion.

The region also had a housing boom that continues today, major road construction projects and a doubling in population right outside the base’s front gate.

Mr. Selfors, who visited Petersburg in October, thinks the job additions will have a similar effect on the communities around Fort Lee. “They will have to work very hard to not benefit from this,” he said.

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