By Joseph S. Pete
Daily Journal of Johnson County
Tens of thousands of soldiers passed through Camp Atterbury each year when the post was still mobilizing them to go to Iraq and Afghanistan, and that meant an economic boost for local businesses.
Higher-ranking officers or civilian contractors sometimes stayed in nearby hotels and ate at local restaurants. Soldiers got bused up every week to Walmart in Franklin.
An Indiana University study found that the Southern Johnson County military installation and the Muscatatuck Center for Complex Operations pumped an estimated $400 million into the local economy last year, when the mobilization mission was already winding down. To put that number in perspective, Camp Atterbury likely contributes more to the local economy than most other institutions in Johnson County, said Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs professor Barry Rubin.
Military leaders can use that economic impact data to help protect the post during a national round of base closures that’s expected to take place in 2015, Indiana National Guard Adjutant Gen. R. Martin Umbarger said. They also could use it when making bids to take over missions for bases that will be closed, he said.
Camp Atterbury’s mobilization mission is winding down, and that likely will result in a decline of $130 million to $170 million in the economic impact of the installation on Johnson and other surrounding counties, Rubin said. That’s a drop of up to 42 percent in the overall amount of money that the post spends in the community and pays in salaries and that soldiers stationed there spend at local businesses.
Camp Atterbury officials however hope the post will get just as busy as it had been in the next few years with a new focus on other missions, including large training events, cyber-warfare and unmanned aerial drones. Military leaders also hope to attract military conferences and do more command staff training for battalions, brigades and divisions.
The study measured how much the post spent last year on utilities, supplies, services and construction projects. Researchers also calculated how soldiers spend their salaries, and how that money ripples through the community and goes to support local businesses.
Rubin led a team of graduate student researchers who found that Atterbury and Muscatatuck contributed $10 million in income, sales and other taxes to local governments last year and were responsible for creating more than 4,700 jobs, which mostly paid salaries and benefits that are higher than the state average.
Soldiers stationed at the post also volunteered more in the community than most residents, possibly out of a sense of duty, Rubin said.
Overall, the post contributed about $75 million more to the economy than Indianapolis’s Super Bowl did last year, Rubin said. The Super Bowl resulted in an estimated $325 million in economic activity.
“We searched for a point of comparison that would put it in perspective, and obviously we heard and read a lot about the Super Bowl impact,” he said. “Well, having Camp Atterbury is like having the Super Bowl, only it’s bigger and it’s every year.”
Researchers tried to look for negatives to balance the research but found little other than occasional complaints from neighbors about the noise. The post, for instance, recycles materials, avoids polluting the environment and takes steps to protect an endangered species of bat.
“There are very few negatives,” he said.
Camp Atterbury has a major impact on local businesses, especially retail stores, restaurants, hotels, car rental businesses, utility companies and construction firms, Rubin said. Soldiers and other employees stationed at the post shop and eat out, while contractors who come for training sometimes rent cars and stay in hotels.
An estimated $10 million in construction took place at Camp Atterbury last year, and the post hires mainly local contractors, meaning jobs to build a new barracks building and an expanded rail spur went to local residents. Other major beneficiaries include the Hilton Hotel in Edinburgh and the Walmart store in Franklin, which the post buses soldiers to, Rubin said.
Soldiers who pass through Camp Atterbury for a week of training told researchers they spent as much as $300 out of their own pockets, such as while dining at local restaurants. That spending supports jobs in other industries, especially at stores and restaurants, the study found.