June 19, 2018

New Era for Navy Alliance

By Jay Friess

biz & tech logoTwo decades ago, St. Mary’s County became the worldwide center of naval aviation for the United States Navy.

Naval Air Station Patuxent River’s rapid transition from a quiet, backwater testing facility to NAVAIR headquarters had a dramatic impact on the local economy, elevating it from one of the poorest in Maryland to one of the richest in the nation.

Subsequent rounds of military facilities’ consolidation rewarded the region further, and Southern Maryland now has a thriving economy that has weathered the worst of the Great Recession and benefited handsomely from a decade of spending on two wars.

Glen Ives

Glen Ives

According to Glen Ives, the new president of the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance, this didn’t happen by accident.

“The right folks in the community recognized the opportunity of that time,” Mr. Ives said of the community leaders who laid the legal, political and infrastructural groundwork for Pax River’s renaissance.

During pivotal moments of the Base Re-Alignment and Closure [BRAC] processes of the early 1990s and mid-aughts, Pax River could have lost critical command or programs to other bases across the nation. But it didn’t, thanks to the continued efforts of community leaders and the lobbying efforts of the Navy Alliance.

This work was often done in private meetings, over the phone and behind closed doors as the Alliance and its allies pushed, pulled, cajoled and wrangled the future of Southern Maryland into place.

“We prided ourselves on being under the radar,” Mr. Ives said.

With the threat of federal spending cuts looming over Washington, D.C., the time has come again for the Alliance to make a move, Mr. Ives believes.

“What is intriguing for us now at the Alliance is that a similar [historical] point is here,” he said. Southern Maryland’s contracting community has faced no dramatic challenge in 15 to 20 years, he said, but it faces one now.

One of the money sources that has continued to fund Southern Maryland’s economy, even as the rest of the country has faced profound recession, is Washington’s continued spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war funding has supported the kind of special operations equipment and small unmanned aircraft projects that have yet to find a place in the military’s official programs of record.

“That helped us at a time when the rest of the country was hurting,” Mr. Ives said of the war funding. However, he said it is difficult to predict which of these projects will find new budget homes once the military withdraws from war. “I think it’s difficult to get your arms around it right now.”

And the traditional homes for these projects are shrinking themselves.

“Sequestration or not, the defense budget is coming down by about $500 billion” over the next decade, Mr. Ives predicted.

Mr. Ives said he thinks the Alliance will have to take a more public leadership role in strengthening relationships between local professional associations and the Navy and protecting the mission of Pax River from other national competitors.

“The Alliance, I think, has really evolved,” Mr. Ives said. “The times have changed. … You have to adjust with the times.”

He said Southern Maryland’s national competitors have become more skilled at the game of protecting their bases in Washington, and Southern Maryland needs get better at the game.

“It’s not the same environment it was in 1995,” he said. “Are we prepared for BRAC?”

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