The newly-passed state budget shows the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs giving the chamber the money as part of a Base Realignment and Closure – or BRAC -- grant.
For longtime residents of Calhoun County, the acronym BRAC may seem like a thing of the past, an artifact of the days when Fort McClellan was on the chopping block.
But the chamber has been receiving BRAC grants since 2003, said Sherri Sumners, president of the chamber.
“It started out as a true BRAC defense thing, where we were trying to make sure the Anniston Army Depot did not get closed like Fort McClellan did,” Sumners said. “But then we realized along the way that there was upside economic development opportunity there.”
So the chamber kept applying for the funds.
Calhoun County is not the only entity receiving the grants. Huntsville Chamber of Commerce and an agency in Montgomery received grants in the 2011 budget.
The grants must be matched by private money, Sumners said.
“We actually spend more private money on those efforts than we do the public money,” Sumners said.
It’s an indication of the dedication of the community to the depot, Sumners said.
“We are an Army covenant community,” Sumners said. “We have a covenant to support them.”
It’s a reciprocated relationship, she said, as the depot provides jobs and pumps tax dollars into the surrounding areas.
Nathan Hill, military liaison for the Economic Development Council, an appointed body that works to bring new business to the county and works closely with the chamber, said 7,000 jobs are tied up in the depot and its partner companies. When you add in indirectly created jobs, the depot has an employment impact of about 23,000 jobs, Hill said. That’s a big pool of employees who are dependent on the depot.
“A couple of times, there were $600 million appropriations that were slashed – one time for BAE Systems and an-other time there was one for General Dynamics, GDLS – and we worked to try to get that funding back and retained those jobs,” Sumners said.
The chamber uses the grant funding to promote the depot. That includes money to visit Washington, D.C., where chamber representatives can find out what the Department of Defense is looking for and relate how the depot can fit in to those missions.
One of the projects that came out of the information-gathering trips was a modernization of the depot’s power train facility to make it a more valuable property.
“We started that in ’95 and then after 2002 or (2003) working with our congressional leaders, we were able to get the first part of that funded,” Hill said. “They just broke ground two weeks ago on the second part of it to complete the entire operation.”
Hill retired from the depot after more than 30 years and began working as the liaison in 2003. He said he took the job because he knows how important the facility is to the community. As a resident and as a retired deputy com-mander of the facility, he is passionate about the depot’s mission.
“I know what their value is to the Army,” Hill said. “Had it not been for depots like Anniston in the last 10 years, during the global war on terror, the Army would have had problems.”
State Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks, has worked with other state legislators to make sure the BRAC funding keeps coming to Anniston.
“We around here and any other parts of the state, we cannot afford to lose any more jobs by losing an industry such as the Anniston Army Depot,” Wood said. “We cannot afford it.”
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.