As the largest military installation in the western U.S., the economic impact of the nearly 250,000 soldiers, airmen, dependents, employees, contractors and Service retirees at the 415,000-acre Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the South Sound can’t be denied.
Specifically, the dollars those groups spend in the local business communities where they live and work â€” namely Lakewood, Tacoma, DuPont, Lacey and Yelm â€” are key to those local economies.
So when roughly five percent of the civilian workers at JBLM are placed on six-month furlough one day a week, from this past April through September, it’s a 20 percent budget cut that also impacts those cities’ economies.
“We’re definitely down, and part of that is because we’re seeing fewer and fewer military-related customers this year,” said Travis Hamilton, assistant manager for Titus-Will used car dealership in Lacey. “I don’t know if furloughs are the reason, but that could easily be part of it.”
DuPont, a city purpose-built for the adjacent military installation, has seen an influx of many of the nearly $4 billion in construction spending related to JBLM from 2009 through 2016.
However, local businesses there have seen military-related customer numbers dropping as well.
At DuPont Cigar and Liquor, owner JiHyn Pang said her business has been hit by the double whammy of not just cutbacks in JBLM civilian personnel spending, but also by exorbitant liquor taxes implemented last year.
“We’ve really seen a drop in our customers who come from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, partly because of (the furloughs),” she said. “But it’s also due to the higher prices of liquor for private vendors; everyone at JBLM now just goes and buys their liquor at Class 6 (the on-base store) because they don’t have to pay those taxes.”
Many small businesses in Lakewood, too, like restaurants, furniture (see below)and clothing stores, are suffering from tighter civilian budgets due to the furloughs.
Others, however, have hit on a niche service that stays in demand.
“Almost all of our customers are military, and they don’t have time for boot-shining, or patching up clothes, or sewing on badges,” said Luz Robinson, general manager of G.I. Sewing/Cleaning in Lakewood.
That business started in 2010, and has only grown due to its proximity to JBLM. While Robinson explained that when soldiers were deployed, her stretch of the business district had been a “ghost town,” since the military have been coming back in waves from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the civilian worker population at JBLM has expanded, it’s caused a customer uptick, regardless of the furloughs.
“Our clients want to spend that time with their families, or doing other things that they need to do in their lives,” Robinson said. “Since the installation has grown and the troops have come back, our business has only been better.”
As Washington state’s third-largest employer, with an annual payroll of $3.2 billion, JBLM in recent years has come up with more than 40 unique strategies to support military needs and capitalize on the economic benefits of businesses catering to soldiers and civilians there.
The real estate industry is one that has seen growth in this region, thanks to JBLM. DuPont, for one, has been building specifically to fill the needs of the military market.
“For the buildings that are finished, we’re full,” said Crystal Esposito, property manager for the new Trax at DuPont Station complex that opened last year. “And we’re actively booking for our last section, which will be finished mid-June.”