By Michael J. Behm, Senior Vice President
Paying attention to the military has become much more than a nod to patriotism for state and local officials Groups, but rather an urgent recognition that military-related challenges facing public officials, the Department of Defense (DoD) and business are converging like never before.
The drawdown from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, a flood of returning veterans, massive defense cuts and the threat of a future round of BRAC base closures have created something of a perfect storm of challenges for DoD and the states and local governments which host its installations.
Over the last several years, state and local officials – through their respective Groups – have raced to create leadership-level task forces, special working groups, committees and websites to raise awareness about the military presence in their states, draw attention to incompatible growth around military installations, and focus on wide range of veterans issues.
As an active participant in many of these committees, I am frequently asked the question: If I am not an elected official with a military base in my backyard, should I care about what these military-focused committees are doing?
Business definitely thinks so.
The National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) Military and Veterans Task Force has been meeting since 2008, the National Association of Counties (NACo) has created a Veterans and Military Services Committee, the National League of Cities (NLC) has a Military Communities Council, the National Governors Association (NGA) has several ongoing projects addressing veteran employment and military base sustainability, the National Lieutenant Governors Association (NLGA) has featured presentations on veteran transition and the Council of State Governments (CSG) and US Conference of Mayors (USCM) have held meetings focused on military installation and veteran issues. The “Big Seven” now meets quarterly to discuss military and veteran issues critical to state and local government.
And private sector involvement with each of these Groups’ military-related programming is growing. Military-focused committee and task force meetings have featured presentations from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Hiring Our Heroes” program; Edison Electric Institute’s “Troops to Energy Jobs” Program; Walmart’s Welcome Home Commitment; and the Home Builders Institute’s training and certification of veterans for employment in the construction industry. The Groups are helping DoD and business to highlight the education, training, on-the-job experience and leadership skills that veterans bring to the civilian job market. Guiding state and local officials to interested employers, and focusing on the veteran employment challenges, have become a very high priority for the Groups over the last two years.
State and local officials Groups and businesses also recognize that finding employers is not the only challenge for recently-separated service members. Neither DoD nor state government has made it easy in the past to translate military education and training into recognized (and required) state professional certifications and licenses. With the prodding of NCSL, NGA, NACo, NLGA, and the support of organizations such as the American Trucking Associations and health professional groups, states have been enacting laws to make it easier for veterans with documented training, work experience and necessary skills to obtain professional licenses such as a CDL, EMT, LPN and PA – licensure for high demand, civilian trucking and health care jobs. In 2013 alone, legislators on NCSL’s Military and Veterans Task Force introduced bills in 16 states – that were then enacted – that ease the professional licensing requirements for skilled veterans.
The Groups are also highlighting the threats posed by uncoordinated and incompatible development and urban sprawl to the nation’s military installations and testing/training ranges and local economies. In many states, the military is among the largest industries and employers and is directly responsible for the economic health of neighboring communities by generating a steady stream of revenue and jobs. When an installation can no longer perform its intended mission – whether that’s sailing ships, flying aircraft, firing artillery, training infantry or testing new technologies – it impacts the ability to realistically train soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. It also puts that “mission” at risk of being relocated or subject to a future round of BRAC.
DoD’s REPI (Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration) Program has used these Groups forums to highlight its cost-sharing partnerships with organizations as diverse as The Nature Conservancy, agri-businesses, foresters, private landowners, conservationists and state and local governments to help avoid or relieve land use conflicts near military installations. These partnerships protect the local economy, critical habitats and at the same time sustain the military presence.
Raising awareness about these problems within the Groups forums, and the benefits the military provides its neighboring communities and businesses, is paying off: Dozens of bills have been enacted since the Groups began addressing everything from compatible land use policies, property buffering, coordination with local military installations about land use changes, limiting lighting that can interfere with military training to creating open space areas around military bases – many of these land use solutions having been born out of discussions at Groups meetings. A number of states – Hawaii being a good example – have also enacted legislation or implemented executive orders intended to protect the military mission by more closely coordinating with state chambers of commerce and other statewide business entities.
Many other issues are being discussed that have a state and local government-military-business nexus, such as renewable energy siting coordination, translating military training and experience into higher-education academic credit, military-energy utility partnerships, National Guard deployments, transportation and infrastructure and Tricare changes to name just a few.
Should your business be involved in those discussions?
Michael J. Behm is Senior Vice President and a Principal of Stateside Associates. During his 20 years working at Stateside Associates, Mr. Behm’s advocacy work and leadership roles in the state officials Groups have brought him to many state capitols and local governments yielding an extensive network of relationships with legislative leaders and other public officials across the 50 states.