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Major US Military Command Closure Causes Concern in Norfolk

  • Deborah Block

On August 9, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the elimination of a major U.S. combat command as a cost-cutting measure. The Joint Forces Command employs about 6,000 people around the U.S. southern city of Norfolk, Virginia. People who live in the region are concerned possible job losses will create a downturn in the local economy.

The city of Norfolk, Virginia is home to the largest naval base in the world. Cities and businesses in the region have grown around that base and other military facilities.

Jack Hornbeck, who heads the local chamber of commerce, said "It's devastating for our region. There's no question about that, a lot of impact, a lot of concern."

Vinod Agarwal, an economics professor in Norfolk, says local businesses rely on the military for income. "Forty to 45 percent of this economy is directly or indirectly related to what happens to U.S. Department of Defense, so when the U.S. Department of Defense cuts down its spending, its effects are felt all throughout this economy," he said.

The Pentagon created the Joint Forces Command in 1999 to develop better ways for the various armed forces to work together. But the Pentagon now wants to cut down on the size of the military's bureaucracy. Reporters recently got an inside look at the command.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the move to close the command is part of an effort to reduce certain kinds of military spending-- money the Pentagon says could be better spent on fighting war. Some of its functions, and military and civilian personnel, will be put elsewhere, including at the Pentagon outside of Washington.

There have been military cutbacks in the region before, but nothing as significant as this, and it caught Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim by surprise. "If you break it apart, you are just going to have to do it in different places. Maybe it's going to be more expensive to do some of it in northern Virginia than it is in Norfolk," he said.

Businesses are concerned cutbacks will have a trickle down effect on their profits. Jim Wofford the manager of a shopping center in Norfolk, said "The average person normally visits our center about two and a half times a month. So you take six thousand jobs and you multiply that at least by three in a family, you are talking about 18,000 folks that we probably won't see in the shopping center."

Randy Windley, the manager at a restaurant in Norfolk, says job cutbacks will especially affect small businesses. "We'll lose money in profits. It has an impact on the whole area when you lose six thousand plus people, their families, so it will hurt our business overall," he said.

Secretary Gates says he wants to dismantle the command over the coming year and is promising money for Navy ship building in Virginia which will create jobs. Virginia politicians are fighting the closure of the Joint Forces Command but may not be able to do anything about it.