The two main economic drivers in Florida are tourism and agriculture, but you can’t ignore the military. From military bases and defense contractors to 1.6 million veterans living in the state, the military contributes nearly 10 percent to the Florida economy.
That’s why protecting those military assets has become the mission of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation, business leaders and elected officials.
Although Congress has yet to agree to a new Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round, experts say it’s just a matter of time. And Florida wants to be prepared.
“Unfortunately, people are not fully aware of what’s going on with base realignments because a lot of it is happening in D.C. behind closed doors,” said Tony Carvajal, executive vice president with the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “What is already happening is what we call the invisible BRAC, changes reassignments, relocations across the state.”
Florida already promotes itself as the “number one veteran friendly state” and “number one in military readiness”. While those “number one” claims aren’t easily measured, the state has been proactive on measures to hang onto its 20 military installations.
One ongoing initiative state lawmakers have funded for the past several years: the purchase of buffer land around bases to curtail civilian development.
“Usually, the number one reason why a state or a community loses a base is because of encroachment,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Putnam attended the military summit to rally the troops and promote expanded benefits for military personnel and their families
“It means, if you are processing out of the military and you want to build your business in Florida, we’re going to waive the application fees on almost every occupational license that’s out there,” Putnam declared. “It means, if you’re applying for a concealed weapons license, you’re going to go to the front of the line and it’s going to be expedited in two weeks.”
Putnam said the state must protect its three unified commands: Southern Command in South Florida, Central Command and Special Operations Command based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base.
“Plenty of other states want that in their backyard make no mistake. That’s why BRAC-proof, and BRAC-growth should be our objective,” Putnam said.
He proposes doing more than defending Florida bases. Putnam wants to aggressively go after out-of-state military installations to relocate to Florida.
“If you’re Hampton Roads, if you’re Norfolk, you better get your best grip because Mayport (Naval Station) is coming for you,” Putnam, a former congressman, told the summit gathering. “Let’s not be Pollyanna about it, it requires a certain amount of political effort to get these things done. It’s not always a level playing field.”
For a fifth year in a row, the Pentagon has requested a new round of base closures. But members of Congress have yet to agree.
“Folks are going to win and lose in this process,” Carvajal said. “I want to be one of the winning states.”
Below is a video produced by the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation promoting the state’s “Lead in Military, Defense and Homeland Security.”