NEWPORT NEWS—Participants in LEAD Peninsula recently toured Fort Eustis in Newport News to learn more about the military’s economic impact on the Hampton Roads region.
LEAD (Learn, Explore, Absorb, and Disseminate) Peninsula is a community and civic immersion program offered by the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce to provide a comprehensive, behind-the-scenes look at the components that make the Peninsula run efficiently and effectively, and prosper economically.
The program includes ten monthly gatherings that focus on different themes, including History/Hospitality/Tourism, Government, Transportation, Education/Workforce Development, Poverty, Environment, Public Safety, Federal Impact (Military), and Technology/Manufacturing. The most recent event was held on Wednesday, May 3.
Keynote speaker Rick Dwyer kicked off the introductory presentation held at the Transportation Museum. Dwyer is the executive director of the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance (HRMFFA), which is a public-private partnership dedicated to attracting, retaining, and growing federal facilities in the region.
“Our region collectively supports about eighteen military installations,” said Dwyer. “Military being by far the largest presence here. There are about 120,000 active-duty, guard, reserve, and civil servant personnel in the region; 125,000 dependents; and about 230,000 veterans. This is the only region in the country that has four different four-star headquartered commands in the region—one at Fort Eustis, Army Training and Doctorate Command; Langley Air Force Base, Air Combat Command; Navy’s Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk; and NATO Allied Command Transformation, the only NATO headquarters on North American soil. We have more Coast Guard personnel than anywhere else in the country. Their largest training center is in Yorktown, and their largest cutter port is in Portsmouth.”
Dwyer discussed how deeply rooted federal facilities are in this area.
“We have a lot of the first and oldest installations here,” said Dwyer. “Langley Air Force Base is the oldest continuously active Air Force Base in the world, celebrating its one hundredth anniversary back in 2016. NASA Langley is NASA’s oldest center in the country. It also celebrated its one hundredth anniversary in the 2017/2018 timeframe. Naval Station Norfolk, Fort Eustis, both are over 100 years old.”
In other words, the military and federal presence here is a huge part of our economy. In rough figures, the Hampton Roads Annual Gross Regional Product was about $107 billion in 2022. The Department of Defense (DOD) alone is responsible for about forty percent of that. In 2022, the DOD contributed about $25 billion in direct spending. All other federal presence in the region adds another two to four percent.
“Close to 45 percent of the regional economy is predicated on that federal presence,” said Dwyer. “I say that to stress that it’s a vital part of our economy. But more importantly, it’s kind of who we are as a region, dating back essentially to the birth of our nation at the victory at Yorktown. Bottom Line: The federal sector is not going anywhere. It’s going to remain a foundational component of our economy long into the future.”
Before embarking on a tour of the fort grounds, Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Lorenzo “Twin” Riddick, who is director of operations, 733d Mission Support Group, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, addressed the group to provide information about Fort Eustis itself.
“What we do here is very unique and the numbers tell the story,” said Riddick. “In the daytime here at Fort Eustis, we have about 21,000 people that work here, between contractors, people who work at Burger King, in the PX, civilian employees with both the Department of the Air Force and the Department of the Army, and soldiers and other service members who work here during the day. At night when we turn off the lights, 6,000 people live here.”
For Eustis has supported nearly every major U.S. Army operation in the last 100 years, including World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Operation Just Cause, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Restore Hope, Uphold Democracy, Vigilant Warrior, Desert Thunder, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and others.
“The United States military has a very vital mission,” said Riddick. “It protects every one of us, every day.”
During the event, the LEAD group had an opportunity to take a barracks tour, fire weapons on a simulated range (Engagement Skills Training), watch Army Aviation Enlisted maintenance personnel learn how to repair Blackhawk helicopters (Advanced Individual Training), go aboard a virtual ship (Maritime & Intermodal Training Department—MITD), visit the Third Port, the Army’s only deep-water port for ship-to-shore watercraft, and drive simulated transportation vehicles. They also had an opportunity to see the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) building, which is where the Army recruits, trains, and develops training doctrine for all Army forces and operates 37 schools and centers at 27 different locations across the U.S.
“The information provided by HRMFFA was an eye-opener for me,” said Matthew Scalia, executive director of Williamsburg Area Transit Authority (WATA) and a member of LEAD’s 2023 class. “I was aware of the large military and federal footprint in the region, but to see the actual numbers, most especially the economic impact, was astonishing. I continue to be impressed with how well the multitude of counties and cities work together for the benefit of the entire region. As for the tour, I most enjoyed seeing the port of Fort Eustis. I served in the Army for more than 27 years and never appreciated the waterborne capabilities we had. It’s truly impressive what such a small portion of the Army can do.”
The Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce will be celebrating 40 years of the LEAD Peninsula program with the Class of 2024. Registration is now open. Deadline to apply is May 19, 2023. For additional information and to apply, visit here.