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Camps' impact weighed: Military installations’ economic value to region focus of study

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Businesses got a boost when more than 9,000 members of the military came to Camp Atterbury this summer to train to respond to attacks on U.S. soil.

That training exercise cost $18 million to stage and about a third of that money went to local expenses such as hotel rooms, food and supplies. For instance, the Army paid $480,000 in wages to local residents who served as role players in the monthlong event.

Soldiers visiting the military installation in southern Johnson County sometimes stay at nearby hotels, and the soldiers stationed at the post live, eat and shop in neighboring communities.

An Indiana University study is looking at the exact economic impact of Camp Atterbury and the Muscatatuck Center for Complex Operations in Jennings County.

The Indiana National Guard has asked IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs professor Barry Rubin to study the post’s economic impact and other contributions it makes to the community. He and graduate students have started looking at how much money the posts contribute to the local and state economies, how many jobs they help create in the community and the amount of volunteering that soldiers do.

An internal study done last year found that the posts had an annual impact of more than $500 million, but the military wanted an outside review.

Preliminary research had found that soldiers from Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck occupy an average of 20 rooms in seven hotels per night near the Edinburgh Premium Outlets mall, resulting in more than 50,000 annual room stays. Restaurant owners and managers told researchers that 30 to 75 percent of their sales can be directly attributed to one or both facilities.

“It’s a significant economic impact,” Rubin said.

More than a dozen businesses operate on the post itself. Restaurants, barbers and convenience stores all are based at Camp Atterbury.

Military leaders want to be able to estimate the post’s economic contribution to show elected officials the post’s worth to Indiana, said Joanna Bryant Caplette, director of public affairs for the combined Atterbury-Muscatatuck operation.

The data gathered could help ensure continued investment in Camp Atterbury at a time when other installations are closing across the country and also that Atterbury gets opportunities to take over training and events that had been conducted at recently closed posts, Rubin said.

Camp Atterbury prepared thousands of soldiers to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, but those wars are winding down. The post has broadened its focus to include major training exercises, mobilizing

civilians for overseas deployments and weapons testing.

The military installation in southern Johnson County is in the midst of a significant expansion that involves reclaiming 1,200 acres of land that was part of Camp Atterbury in World War II. The U.S. Army is spending an estimated $75 million on construction projects, included an expanded rail spur, three barracks buildings and a dining facility.

The post gets about $123 million in state and federal funding a year to cover operating costs, but that figure doesn’t include salaries or benefits, Caplette said. But the economic impact extends beyond that figure. Atterbury and Muscatatuck employ about 2,500 people who work at the posts but spend money in area communities, she said.

Rubin said the graduate students would look at the multiplier effects of how they spend their salaries, or how that money ripples through the community and supports various businesses. Plumbing or heating and air conditioning contractors, for instance, might get a significant amount of business by the post.

The post also contributes to the economy by awarding construction contracts for projects such as a new dining facility and by buying supplies, Rubin said.

But Atterbury’s impact also extends beyond dollars and cents, Rubin said. For example, soldiers who are stationed at the post volunteer in the community, including for a conservation group and the children’s museum in Columbus, Rubin said.

“We are particularly interested in the volunteerism that takes place by the military, because no one has any idea about the quantity of it,” he said. “But the contribution to the community goes beyond just dollars, and we want to be more comprehensive about the impact to the region.”

Rubin has done some preliminary research with three graduate students and will have a class of about 30 graduate students work on the research in the spring semester. The project will be the equivalent of a master’s thesis. A previous class advised Bloomington on whether it should annex businesses west of city limits.

The study is expected to be completed in May. The cost is not available.

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