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Group wants area residents to understand fort's impact

by Erin Kaberline | Feb 04, 2014

Meeting January 28th informs public of local impact
by R.D. Hohenfeldt | Feb 04, 2014
Sustainable Ozarks Partnership public meeting in Phelps County, January 28

The Rolla Daily News, Rolla, Missouri.  Trying to figure out how many soldiers are stationed at Fort Leonard Wood and how many people work there is difficult. But according to two officials working with the Sustainable Ozarks Partnership, there are fewer of both this year than there were 12 months ago.

Joe Driskill, left, executive director of the Leonard Wood Institute, and Steve Tupper, chairman of the executive committee of the Sustainable Ozarks Partnership, spoke about Fort Leonard Wood's impact at a meeting Tuesday at the Phelps County Courthouse.

Trying to figure out how many soldiers are stationed at Fort Leonard Wood and how many people work there is difficult.

But according to two officials working with the Sustainable Ozarks Partnership, there are fewer of both this year than there were 12 months ago. A year from now, there could be fewer still.

"We know the Army is going to shrink," said Joe Driskill, executive director of the Leonard Wood Institute, at a Tuesday night meeting held at the Phelps County Courthouse. "There are going to be cuts. They are coming, and they are going to be substantial."

Steve Tupper, chairman of the executive committee of the Sustainable Ozarks Partnership, told the group of about 20 who showed up for the presentation that the region's response to the expected cuts should be four-fold:

• "We've got to work on our national reputation," Tupper said. People who live in Phelps and Pulaski counties should understand the impact the post has on their lives. The Army spends $1,095,840,000 annually on payroll at the post; that affects everyone, perhaps indirectly, but that amount of economic activity ripples throughout the region. People of the region should help tell the rest of the nation that "this is a marvelous place to train soldiers and a great place to live," Tupper said.

• "We've got to have a strong region," Tupper said. That means cities and counties must work together on infrastructure, economic development, environmental issues, education and quality of life.

• "We've got to make a strong Fort Leonard Wood," he said. Sustainable Ozarks Partnership is working with legislators to consider Fort Leonard Wood for additional missions. Tupper, in response to questions from a member of the audience, alluded to efforts to bring a strong robotics research presence, perhaps even manufacturing, to the post.

• "And we've got to look at costs," he said. That means studying the costs of training and showing the Department of Defense that the federal government gets more value for its dollars at Fort Leonard Wood than anywhere else.

Billed as a "public forum with Phelps County residents," the event drew few residents. Most in the audience were either associated with Sustainable Ozarks Partnership or with county government. All three Phelps County commissioners attended.

That sparse turnout is indicative of the work needed to be done to inform local residents of the impact the post some 35 miles away in Pulaski County has on their lives in Rolla, for as both Tupper and Driskill noted, communities across the nation with neighboring military installations are all working to compete to keep those facilities and their jobs.

Driskill said Fort Leonard Wood is the fifth, perhaps sixth, largest employer in the state. It underwent a large build-up in previous decades, but with the expense of fighting two wars, the government is looking to cut military expenditures. "We are looking for ways to blunt those impacts," Driskill said.

State and federal lawmakers and other government officials are working to keep Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and staffed at a high level.

Strengthening the Fort Leonard Wood region