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Chamber Of Commerce Debates Future Of Florida's Military Forces

Thomas Hawk via flickr

The Florida Chamber of Commerce hosted a summit Wednesday on the future of the state’s military forces. Florida’s business and military leaders are teaming up to help the state prepare for the next 15 years.

When thinking about the future of Florida’s military bases, the issue that weighs on State Representative Paul Renner, is BRAC. That’s base reorganization and closure, when the Department of Defense cuts back on bases that are inefficient or ineffective.

“This is ongoing. It’s a dynamic and occurring now process. As Kay mentioned, we’ve gotta be ready now. It’s take years from the planning stage of a road to a ribbon-cutting. We’ve gotta be able to look forward and be forward looking to make sure that our bases are ready,” Renner said.

Renner is a Republican from Palm Coast. He and other state lawmakers hope to insulate Florida’s 20 bases from possible downsizing by casting the military and veterans as an integral part of the economy. According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the military and defense contractors are already a large economic driver, resulting in 775,000 jobs. Business leaders hope to keep it that way, which is why they want to help more veterans transition into the civilian workforce. Kay Rasmussen heads the economic development council of Okaloosa County, home to Eglin Air Force Base.

“I would suggest to all economic developers and community planners, you look at your military installation as a business. It is a targeted industry. And you have to understand that business to help it to be successful, competitive and secure in your community,” Rasmussen said.

The state has already taken steps to attract and retain vets by lowering barriers to college credit and professional licenses. Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, seen as a possible candidate for governor in 2018, detailed his plans for vets.

“The challenges that we have in education, in rural economic development, in infrastructure, in STEM degrees, in having people start and grow and build their businesses here instead of having it be the cherry on top of a successful life built someplace else. All of those things come back to having a robust military and veterans infrastructure,” Putnam said.

Absent from the day’s presentations were discussions of the threat sea level rise poses to Florida’s military bases, or issues of mental illness among veterans. According to a recent study by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the risk of suicide among vets is 21%  higher than among civilians.