It was a question that hit toward the middle of today’s Town Hall style forum during the First Coast Defense Expo, but one that summed up the fundamental purpose behind the day’s events.
What are contractors looking for when deciding to lay roots, and what would they want to see specifically in Jacksonville?
Because the city and military installations here are pretty economically co-dependent, Congressman Ander Crenshaw- who organized the event- says it’s vital to not just get these answers, but link together the people who can make growth happen.
“They’ve had a chance to come together, had a chance to get to know each other, to exchange ideas and find out what’s available in terms of long term business,” he says.
Defense contractors of all sizes were on hand for today’s expo, and Crenshaw told me it was even more successful than he imagined. So much so that he is working to make it an annual gathering.
A panel including representatives from different contractors, Crenshaw, Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi and Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown answered these questions by looking through their different perspectives.
For what the area and state is doing to bring in business, Carroll says the administration has been working to reduce regulations on small business to encourage growing contractors to move here. Brown pointed to the different ways Jacksonville honors its servicemen and veterans.
And the contractors agreed that economic advantage and a driven workforce were priorities in making their decisions.
But among the talk of growth and building networks for the future was the question of sequestration. The $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts set to take place next year unless Congress passes a budget to compensate for that amount would hit hard on defense. The Department of Defense would lose about $500 billion over the next 10 years under the cuts.
Carroll says that would have a devastating trickle down effect in Florida where 39,000 jobs would go immediately, and the effects would slowly be felt down the supply chain each jobs used.
“That revenue drops, now we have a problem with regards to maybe with a recession or moving backwards in our trends for job creation in the state of Florida,” she says.
And that could leave Jacksonville in a tough spot.
“We’re gunna have to take all our energies to make sure that our future is protected through this process,” says Florida Representative Lake Ray.
Ray says we have been building a skilled workforce, and should be able to expect growth especially in the defense industry- although the cuts are concerning.
As he spoke on the cuts, I asked Crenshaw what he would want to be able to say on the cuts at this expo next year.
“We went to Washington, we got our budget and our spending under control, but we didn’t devastate our military along the way- we didn’t balance our budget on the backs of the military.”
While Crenshaw says he is working along with his colleagues- even across the aisle- to try to stop the cuts from happening, it’s a “very real possibility.”