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Major military funding growth outlined for Fort Leonard Wood area
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (April 14, 2009) — At Tuesday afternoon’s meeting of the Fort Leonard Wood Regional Commerce and Growth Association, garrison commander Col. John Megnia said the post has received $66.5 million in federal economic stimulus money to renovate trainee barracks and do specific infrastructure repairs, as well as $12 million for various backlogged maintenance projects.

“That’ll help a lot on improving our infrastructure on this Army installation. All this stuff was very ready to do; we were just waiting for a funding source for it,” Megnia said.

“That is an amazing economic impact,” said Elizabeth Bax, who serves as the economic developer for Rolla and Phelps County.

Responding to questions from Bax, Megnia said the funding will mostly be used to hire local and regional workers even if the contractor is based in St. Louis or another city outside the area. Much of the work is labor-intensive and pays prevailing wages that are much higher than many civilian jobs in the area.

“If you’re looking for a construction job and you can’t find one on Fort Leonard Wood, there is something wrong with you,” Megnia said.

Other federal funding is also coming to the area, noted Bob Chapman, the director of administration for the Leonard Wood Institute. LWI has received 247 “white papers” for the next round of military research grants totaling $100 million, and about 20 of them amounting to a quarter to a fifth of the $100 million worth of requests will be funded by LWI.

“We’ve got some really neat projects that the Army is looking hard at to acquire, and a lot of that is local, too. If those do come true, it would be a good economic development opportunity for us locally,” Chapman said. “We’re an earmark and earmarks get a lot of bad press, but the way this earmark is handled is getting a lot of good press where it’s actually competitive in the process. Also, there are additional points for local economic development activities. Although we do fund some out-of-state, the majority are within the state and the majority of that is local.”

Megnia agreed that the Leonard Wood Institute helps make sure funds are steered toward beneficial projects.

“That’s the real beauty of the process LWI has set forth: it’s just not a political representative’s good idea of what he thinks the Army needs,” Megnia said. “It is the capabilities that the army is actually looking for and saying, ‘Here’s where we need work done.’”

Bax said she was impressed.

“You’re creating a center here that will ultimately be an even bigger deal than it is now, I think,” Bax said.

“We hope so; there are some real opportunities there. But again, we try to address the wants and needs of the Army first,” Chapman said.

Bax asked if the RCGA would be willing to endorse a project in Rolla that she said could help the entire area: a Route 63 retail bypass through Rolla.

Earlier in the meeting, Lt. Col. Hugh Rogers, Fort Leonard Wood’s assistant chief of staff, had told RCGA board members that his wife hadn’t been happy with the lack of retain shopping when they were reassigned from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Leonard Wood. The Route 63 bypass could help address that, Bax said.

“If Rolla can create a destination for retail, given the crossroads area, then what happens is this area has a new appeal to people like your wife, people like the defense contractors that work with (the Leonard Wood Institute), to your professional and medical staff everywhere. Suddenly that economic benefit spills over into Lebanon, and this area is a more attractive place for employers. I see an easy case for a regional benefit, which is why I’m bringing it up.”

Bax noted that U.S. Sen. Kit Bond and Mike Kehoe, chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, will both have their terms expire in 2011.

“The highway bill is coming up, and Kit Bond is going away. What a good legacy for Kit Bond, what a great legacy for Mike Kehoe to really do something to benefit all of central Missouri in funding 63 north-south,” Bax said.

Jones said he didn’t see a problem with sending an endorsement letter but would want to speak to other board members first.

“I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want to endorse any project in any of our three counties as long as it’s not like the world’s largest tattoo parlor — not that I have anything against tattoos,” Jones said.

“I got the market cornered on tattoo parlors,” Megnia said.

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