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If government spending is slashed next Friday, thousands of Fort Knox workers could make cuts in their own spending, dampening the business climate in Hardin County.
Planning for the potential trigger for sequestration, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the Defense Department’s civilian workers could face furloughs, losing one day of work per week for up to 22 weeks.
About 7,000 Defense of Department civilian employees work at Fort Knox and could lose 20 percent of their pay for more than half a year. Department officials said exceptions to the furloughs would be few.
Derek Avey, a civilian Fort Knox Garrison employee in the plans, analysis and integration office, said he’s given thought to how his family would adjust.
“We’ll make car payments and mortgage payments and those things, but going out to eat or catching a movie … we may not do as often as we used to,” the Elizabethtown resident said.
Furloughs at Fort Knox will trigger a cut back in discretionary spending for many Hardin County families.
“No doubt about it, if it is implemented, it will have an impact,” said Brad Richardson, executive director of Hardin County Chamber of Commerce.
Fort Knox is the largest employer in the area. For comparison, the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development ranks Akebono as the county’s largest industrial employer with 1,300 employees. Hardin Memorial Health employs about 2,000 full-time equivalents. Hardin County Schools employs about 2,600.
Further, jobs at Fort Knox generally are higher-paying than jobs off post. The average annual salary of a civilian worker at Fort Knox is about $53,000, Fort Knox spokesman Kyle Hodges said.
Throughout Hardin County, the median household income, not individual income, is about $47,000, according to Census figures.
“That’s a high number,” Richardson said of civilian employee salaries. “But nonetheless, 20 percent of anybody’s wage is going to impact their spending habits.”
Uncertainty surrounding deficit reduction plans could affect business owners’ and potential business owners’ development plans in the short term, he said.
But, in the long-term view, as troop reductions continue Fort Knox could be an especially valuable installation because of its low cost of doing business and continue to help the local economy grow, Richardson said.
“That’s our best case scenario, long term,” he said.
Defense Department officials said furloughs could start in late April and employees would receive 30 days’ notice.
For Avey, his outlook is one of perseverance, no matter any cost-savings measures implemented.
“We’ll do our part to help the Army,'' he said. "We’ll make our mission.”
Sarah Berkshire can be reached at (270) 505-1745.