- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - A state commission released a report Tuesday detailing how Virginia officials can help grow the military’s presence in the state.

The military is a major driver of the economies of northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. In 2013, the Defense Department spent more than $58 billion in Virginia.

Although the Defense Department has called for a new round of base closures and realignments because of excess infrastructure, Congress has repeatedly rebuffed those efforts. The report aims to put Virginia in a better position to increase its military presence and protect what it has should base closures occur in the future, among other things.

The Governor’s Commission on Military Installations and Defense Activities made 20 distinct recommendations in its report Tuesday. It says the majority of them can be achieved within seven years. Here’s a look at some of the report’s recommendations.

HIGHER EDUCATION: The report calls for establishing a Center of Excellence at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg devoted to a “whole of government” approach to national security. The report says the center could offer graduate and doctoral programs in strategic studies and use interagency, intergovernmental and multinational organizations already in Hampton Roads. The report notes Congress and the Obama administration are encouraging federal agencies to improve collaboration.

INVESTMENT: The report says that older buildings at many of Virginia’s military bases are badly in need of refurbishment and efficiency upgrades, but notes the military’s construction budget has been slashed by half in the past few years. The report urges the use of state bonds to support capital investments to improve military installations. Legislation was enacted earlier this year authorizing their use. The report says projects would be carefully selected to enhance the value of each installation as defined by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: To facilitate growth at Fort Belvoir in northern Virginia, the report recommends investing in a Metro or a Virginia Railway Express spur to the area. The report says the base can continue to grow as long as its transportation infrastructure and fiber optics can support more administrative and headquarters centered missions.

SHIPYARDS: The report says Virginia should back vocational training to support increased workloads for ship construction and repairs. The report notes Norfolk Naval Shipyard is trying to hire 1,500 workers in more than 20 trades and that finding skilled workers may end up being a ‘debilitating challenge’ with so many ship repair facilities in Hampton Roads. The report recommends partnering efforts with Tidewater Community College should be expanded and that the state should also work with Newport News Shipbuilding to find out what needs to be done to bring overhaul work of attack submarines to the state.

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