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Inslee reactivates military alliance to retain defense jobs

OLYMPIA – Protecting the jobs and economic stimulus from the many military installations in Washington is “a no-brainer,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday as he resurrected a coalition of groups from around the state to prepare for any cuts in the nation’s defense budget.

The Washington Military Alliance – which will have members from economic development offices, chambers of commerce and military installations – will help protect defense jobs, contracts and infrastructure in the state. A 2012 study estimated about 136,000 jobs and some $15.7 billion in economic activity are tied to military bases around the state and billions more are tied to contracts the Defense Department has with businesses throughout Washington.

That study was done by the original alliance, which was set up by Inslee’s predecessor, Chris Gregoire, to prepare for a possible Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The Pentagon wanted a commission similar to ones in past years that forced Congress to close some bases, but earlier this year Congress rejected the idea. The original alliance disbanded after the study was completed, but Inslee said he was “standing it back up” with a long list of military and civilian participants from around the state.

“This is what you might call a no-brainer,” he said in a conference room filled with representatives from participating military and business organizations.

The Defense Department recently said Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a combined Army and Air Force installation in Pierce County, is on an Army list for possible downsizing and could lose as many as 16,000 uniformed and civilian personnel. The state is arguing that the Army significantly underestimated the economic impact of such a reduction.

Inslee said Wednesday he has not been advised of reductions at Fairchild Air Force Base or any of the state’s other eight bases, but that doesn’t mean the state can ignore that possibility.

“You’ve got to be on top of this, 24/7,” Inslee said.

Washington has the sixth-highest population of military personnel in the country, but that doesn’t make it an obvious place for the Pentagon to cut in a nationwide reduction, he added.

“We are the best place to consolidate. We’re close to the Pacific Rim,” he said. “Consolidation could be a good thing, if we play our cards right.”

Named to lead the alliance is someone familiar with lobbying efforts to support Fairchild: Rich Hadley, former Greater Spokane Incorporated president. Hadley retired from his post at GSI earlier this year and now carries the title “president emeritus.” He said retirement gives him time to work with the alliance on defense issues.

“It’s really all about protecting the military assets we have,” Hadley said.

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