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Editorial: Extensive data can gauge Atterbury effect

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There should be no doubt of the enormous effect the investment by the Pentagon and Indiana National Guard in upgrading training facilities at Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck Urban Training Center has had on the area.

Visual reports coupled with anecdotal evidence point to a ripple effect of several million dollars.

In fact, there are some corroborated statistics that speak to mega-millions in expenditures by the federal and state governments.

  • The annual budgets for the two facilities in the area top an estimated $123 million, and that does not include salaries.
  • There are an estimated 2,500 employees at the two posts — almost a third of the total employment of Cummins Inc. in southern Indiana.
  • The military accounted for an estimated 50,000 room stays at hotels near Edinburgh Premium Outlets.

But these are only surface statistics, rounded to approximate or estimated numbers.

As such, they become anecdotal evidence, which when spread far enough can be exaggerated or under-reported. It is important to the military and the communities that are thriving on this government investment to have accurate and extensive statistics that can gauge not only the initial impact but any ripple effects.

To that end the Indiana National Guard has commissioned the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs to study the impact of the posts on the surrounding communities, not only the economic effect but other contributions, such as community interaction with base personnel.

There will be some benefits that cannot be gauged on a dollars-and-cents basis, such as the involvement of base personnel with community events or the expertise provided in areas such as physical conditioning to area schools.

Much of the preliminary information relating to base spending in nearby communities has focused on obvious expenditures such as salaries, capital investments, hotel stays by military personnel and restaurant income generated by soldiers and their families.

The IU study has been designed to consider other elements, such as revenue generated for area contractors and subcontractors. One of the latest projects undertaken at Camp Atterbury has been the development of 1,200 acres of land by the military. So far the Pentagon has budgeted $75 million for construction projects. How much of that money is going to area businesses?

There’s more at stake here than simply having available hard statistics about the impact of a particular undertaking.

The information certainly helps the affected communities make realistic judgments as to future economic development initiatives. The numbers might not be as good as some have been saying.

On the other hand they could be even better than the most optimistic projected.

It could also help make the case for continued government support of the facilities. At a time when the military is “drawing down” and looking to close installations, it is vital that communities be equipped with the most detailed statements available.

Pentagon officials make evaluations on hard facts not anecdotes.

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