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Local officials for years have touted the economic impact of the Fort Knox realignment. Recent government data is backing them up — big time.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics this week released figures that show the Elizabethtown metro area increased nonfarm employment by the fifth highest percentage in the nation from October 2009 to this past October.
That comes on the heels of an August report that said the area ranked fourth in the country for growth in total annual income at 5.2 percent.
The Base Realignment and Closure initiative — which intensified this year with the arrival of Human Resources Command — is expected to create a net gain of 7,800 jobs, including spin-off jobs, said Mark Needham, the governor’s BRAC assistant.
For those who thought BRAC would never happen, it has happened, he said.
Human Resources Command — one of several new arrivals — began moving to Fort Knox in June, and hiring continues. The post is moving the Armor Center and School to Fort Benning, Ga.
About 30 percent of Human Resources workers are moving here with the command, Needham said.
Likely reflecting growth at Fort Knox, the number of federal jobs in Hardin County has increased from 4,775 in 2007 to 6,069 in the second quarter of this year, according to the state Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.
“That’s your driver,” said Ron Crouch, director of research and statistics for the agency.
Total nonfarm employment in the Elizabethtown Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes LaRue County, increased from 45,500 to 47,500 from October 2009 to October 2010 — a gain of 4.4 percent. The latest unemployment rate — 8.4 percent — is 1.4 percent lower than the national figure.
BRAC helps offset declines in other areas, such as manufacturing. While seeing a slight uptick from last year, the number of factory jobs in Hardin County fell 35 percent from 2001 to July.
Private sector jobs grew in areas such as management, health care, administrative and accommodation and food services.
Judge-Executive Harry Berry said there is a cascading effect from Fort Knox hiring. When new positions are filled with local employees, openings are created at the worker’s former employer.
Regardless of BRAC, Crouch said he has heard talk in Frankfort that smaller metro areas and rural communities — not big cities — appear to be turning the economy around. A lower cost of doing business may be a factor, he said.
Locally, being in the Interstate 65 corridor helps, too. This area has been somewhat insulated from the economic downturn, Berry said.
“We’re very blessed in Hardin County,” he said, adding that the effects of the post realignment will mushroom as the economy recovers.
This area isn’t alone in seeing employment benefits of BRAC. The No. 1 year-over-year percentage gain in jobs was in the Manhattan, Kan., metro area, which has grown through realignment of Fort Riley Army post. October employment increased by 8 percent there.
No. 2 in the non-seasonally adjusted list for metros — the one that ranks Elizabethtown fifth — is Kokomo, Ind. The federal government also helped that town’s employment picture, but in a different way. In addition to benefits from the auto industry bailout, it received $400 million in federal stimulus money.
John Friedlein can be reached at (270) 505-1746.