By Howard Altman | Tribune Staff
Published in The Tampa Tribune, August 12, 2014
In 2012, military spending in the three-county Tampa region accounted for nearly $14 billion in economic output, 141,000 jobs and represented about 7 percent of the economies of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties, according to the Florida Chamber Foundation.
Statewide, defense spending brought in about $70 billion, or about 10 percent of the gross domestic product that year, according to the foundation’s recently released Industry Analysis: Military & Defense report. That translated into more than 750,000 jobs statewide, according to the report, which also shows that there are about 85,000 military and civilian personnel living in Florida.
But with downward pressure on Pentagon spending, the possibility of future rounds of automatic defense cuts and the looming end of combat operations in Afghanistan, the Florida Chamber is holding a meeting in Orlando tomorrow to help figure out a way forward.
“I think the takeaway is the expansion and maintaining of military and defense industry in the state is a vital element of Florida’s future prosperity,” said Sal Nuzzo, the foundation’s research and public policy manager. “That specifically is particularly felt in the Tampa area, with MacDill Air Force Base and Avon Park. They are very tied into the local economy.”
Nuzzo said the Florida Chamber Foundation Military, Defense & Veterans Opportunities Summit is aimed at bringing together local economic development professionals, policy makers and politicians to develop strategies for growth.
The trendlines for the defense sector are not encouraging.
Defense spending in the state dropped by about $3 billion over three years, the Florida Defense Contractors Association told The Tribune in June. That represents about a 20 percent cut since 2010, when more than $14 billion in military contracts were awarded.
Last year, that translated into about 1,500 job losses statewide, according to association president Joe Marino.
And that is just from companies of 100 or more, said Marino.
The real effect could be even deeper, he said, because smaller companies do not have to file notices with the Department of Economic Opportunity, which the association used to gather its figures.
Nuzzo said the conference has two main goals — encouraging continued military economic development and continued growth of the Florida veteran population, which is now about 1.5 million.
“It is not just the presence of military installations in the state that bring in money,” he said. “There are all the support services and the civilian workforce that comes with installations. The surrounding economy has a tremendous boost because of the presence of a military installation.”
MacDill, for instance, pumps about $5 billion a year into the local economy, according to base officials.
Having veterans in the state is a huge economic boon, said Steve Murray, spokesman for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The state receives about $15.7 billion annually because of veterans,” he said. “That’s federal money through the GI Bill, compensation and pension insurance, construction money and military retirement pay.”
Mike Prendergast, the department’s executive director, is on the list of speakers that includes U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee,
“As home to more than 1.5 million veterans and one of the nation’s top military states, defense and veterans issues are integral to Florida’s economy and workforce,” said Miller in an email to the Tribune. “The Florida Chamber Foundation’s Military, Defense and Veterans Opportunities Summit is a great chance to gather with leaders from these communities to discuss the vital role our veterans and defense-related industries will play in Florida’s future.”
Rich McClain, executive director of the Tampa Bay Defense Alliance, which works to grow the local defense industry, said the Florida Chamber is on the right track.
“I applaud the Florida Chamber for their initiatives designed to support and secure the defense industry for the state of Florida and our own Tampa Bay Region,” he said. “As we look to the future, with the upcoming defense budget cuts, now is the time to go on the offensive. We, as a team, need to promote the many capabilities and talents we have within our local community, from MacDill to high tech to major medical to our small business defense experts. Tampa Bay represents the best-of-the-best and we should strategically and positively promote this with not only key decision makers within government and industry, but with the general public at large.”
The summit runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Hyatt Regency Orlando, International Airport, 9300 Jeff Fuqua Blvd., Orlando.