The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce's Military Enhancement Committee will hold two informational sessions this week on the campus of the University of South Carolina Beaufort, focusing on the effects of federal-budget sequestration and possible base closures.
Co-created and sponsored by the university's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute chapter, the two-hour sessions will be Wednesday at USCB's Bluffton campus and Thursday at the Beaufort campus. Each session will include a five-member panel, with each panelist focusing on a particular topic, moderator Stephen Sorett said. Both meetings begin at 3 p.m.
Military Enhancement Committee member Alice Howard will start the panel by giving an update on the area's three military installations -- particularly the air station, which is preparing for the arrival the Joint Strike Fighter next year. As many as 88 new F-35B Lightning II's could be delivered by the end of the year, Sorett said.
Lowcountry Economic Alliance executive director Kim Statler will talk about the economic impact of Beaufort County's military bases. Sorett said the three installations pour almost $1.2 billion into the local economy, but continued sequester cuts to military spending could reduce that number.
Sequestration will lead to a total reduction of nearly $500 billion in military spending over the next decade. In 2013, the federal government had to shave $37 billion from its budget projections, a number that will increase to $52 billion in 2014.
More than 650,000 civilian military employees were hit with six furlough days, a move that saved about $2 billion, the Department of Defense reported in August. The furloughed included more than 1,000 employees on Beaufort County bases.
With the high cost of production for Joint Strike Fighters, the aircraft could face similar cuts, Sorett said.
"There are 2,200 F-35B aircraft set to be produced," Sorett said. "Sequestration could cut that number back. Beaufort may not get anywhere near the amount of aircraft they expected or get them anytime soon because of cuts. If that happens, they may not need the air station, given (Marine Corps Air Station) Cherry Point (N.C.) is just a quick drive up the coast. It could happen, because the sequester and BRAC are hand-in-hand."
The other two panelists, Beaufort city manager Scott Dadson and Washington-based consultant CeCe Siracuse, will discuss how the city and the military installations are positioning themselves for future BRAC closures, which are expected in 2015, Sorett said.
Dadson will talk about how the city has been working with the bases, particularly the air station, and what the area needs to do to keep the bases.
Sorett also has experience with BRAC closures, having served as the co-chairman of his firm's attorney group during the 2005 round of base realignments and closures. An attorney for Atlanta-based McKenna, Long & Aldridge, Sorett's expertise is in government contracting. Since moving to Bluffton full-time in 2011, Sorett has worked to help Beaufort County's military installations, including planning next week's informational sessions.
"Frankly, the military bases are one of the things that attracted me to the area," he said. "Beaufort County has a long, vibrant military history, and the air station is a real jewel on the East Coast. It's one of the only bases where a pilot can be at a training range within 10 minutes."
USCB OLLI director Andrea Sisino said planning for the sessions began in February, after a member of the program's curriculum committee suggested creating a class about the economic impact of the sequester on the area.
"When the topic came up, we knew we needed to put it in the fall semester," she said. "We knew this could have a huge economic impact on the area, even if we didn't know what was going to happen down the road. We also knew we needed to do one class in Bluffton and one in Beaufort to reach as many people as we could."
OLLI, a continuing education program targeted at people over 50, has about 1,400 members in the Lowcountry, Sisino said. Over 50 volunteers from across Beaufort and Jasper counties make up the curriculum committee that selected and planned 205 courses for the fall.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.