Commentary, Guest Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts

It should not be a surprise that providing for the nation’s defense plays a significant role in Virginia’s economy.  Virginia ranks first in Department of Defense contracts as a percentage of state economy; first in percentage of female veterans, first in the number of veterans in the workforce per capita and, according to Wallethub, Virginia is the best state for military retirees (for the fourth year in a row).  It doesn’t hurt that The Pentagon is located in Virginia, but the Commonwealth also is home to the National Guard Bureau, NATO’s Allied Command Transformation, and Norfolk Naval Station, the largest naval base in the world.  

In 2022, defense spending accounted for nearly 875,000 jobs and more than $105 Billion is the total economic impact in Virginia.  Almost half of those jobs are credited to Northern Virginia jurisdictions; military spending drives approximately 24 percent of the region’s economy.  Only the Norfolk area has a larger percentage, at 39 percent. Active-duty military personnel at Fort Belvoir, Marine Corps Base Quantico, and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, along with the Pentagon, often finish their careers here, and transition to civilian jobs in Northern Virginia’s private sector.  Recruiting and retaining these well-trained and qualified workers is a goal for many Northern Virginia employers.  A Tech and Cyber Networking Hiring event is scheduled for January 31 at Capital One Hall in Tysons; the virtual component is scheduled for February 1, 2023.  

Fort Belvoir is a strategic base for the United States Army and is the largest employer in Fairfax County, with nearly twice as many workers as The Pentagon.  Military bases have co-existed with their surrounding communities for decades, with the base fence line demarcating a “stay out” philosophy.  The military mission, understandably, is paramount for the bases, and must be enforced but, in recent years, cooperation and collaboration inside and outside the fence line has increased.  In Northern Virginia, the Community, Military, and Federal Facility Partnership, coordinated by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, meets every other month, bringing base commanders, elected officials, local and state staff, and non-profit groups together to discuss issues affecting both “sides” of the fence.  

Base commanders often have to manage challenges that usually face small town mayors rather than trained fighters.  One Marine colonel revealed that he never thought his biggest challenge as a commander would be the availability of child care for his soldier families.  Affordable housing, mental and behavioral health, and employment for military spouses, are similar inside and outside the fence line.  Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) listening sessions and resilience assessments reveal similarities that face military and civilian organizations alike. Art therapy programs at The Workhouse in Lorton help veterans deal with PTSD, employment fairs held in military facilities welcome public and private employers and job seekers, mutual aid agreements allow county firefighters to respond to emergencies on base when needed, and Intergovernmental Service Agreements promote efficiencies and savings for both entities.  

Despite enormous investments in defense technology, the military mission depends on people, just as domestic success does.  Keeping talented workers and maintaining a beneficial quality of life ensures sustainable missions, according to Tom Crabbs, Military Liaison for the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Mr. Crabbs presented the newest Virginia Military Factbook at a recent partnership meeting, and noted that the information in the factbook is locally driven, state-supported, and federally shared.  More information about veterans and defense affairs in the Commonwealth can be found at www.vada.virginia.gov.

 Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov.