Military props up Alaska’s economy in tough financial times
Alaska’s military leaders are worried the state could become a target for North Korea, and that has armed forces ramping up. Top military officials in Alaska gave state lawmakers an update on the state of the military Thursday, one that shows the new efforts go beyond public safety to helping protect the state’s economy.
Alaska’s purse strings may be tight, but the federal government is still spending money up here — especially on the military.
“With the many changes in the Arctic to include more traffic, more people, the opening of resources, we have to up our game for emergency response capability,” Said Maj. Gen. Laurie Hummel, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard and commissioner of the Alaska Deptartment of Military and Veterans’ Affairs.
The increased threat in North Korea means Alaska must be ready. The Air Force is upping operations in Fairbanks with the addition of two new F-35 fighter jet squadrons, which will double the base population by 2022. Military construction at the base includes $512 million for new and renovated buildings, which will likely translate into local construction jobs and more money in surrounding areas.
“Those families are going to want to shop, they’re going to want to buy homes, if their car has to get worked on they’re going to need to take it downtown to a shop,” said Lt. Gen. Ken Wilsbach, 11th Air Force Commander.
“The Coast Guard is a fairly thin organization and there would have been some operational impacts here,” said Rear Adm. Michael McAllister, commander of the 17th Coast Guard District.
Now, the Coast Guard is actually increasing operations in Alaska, with new cutters and planes.
The one place military leaders say is still lagging behind — the Port of Anchorage, which the military says can become a bottleneck for moving all their equipment.
“All of the Congressional delegations and the staff to the delegations that come through our headquarters, we brief them on the importance of the port and how we need that port for strategic deployment,” Said Major General Bryan Owns, commanding general of the U.S. Army in Alaska.
There’s no military money in the queue for the port, but with half of the military’s population living in the Anchorage area, and more moving into Fairbanks — the increased spending should provide a rare economic bright spot.
According to economists at the University of Alaska Anchorage, military spending generates more jobs and income in the state than almost any other industry — behind oil and non-defense federal spending.
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