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Experts question data on income growth

Hinesville-Fort Stewart rate one of country’s top four

POSTED: August 19, 2011 9:12 a.m.

Last week, the Hinesville-Fort Stewart metropolitan statistical area was deemed as having one of the top four fastest personal income growth rates within the United States for its 2010 numbers.

But the news stumps many area economics and labor experts, who are not able to account for the surge in income.

“Without analyzing inputs, I can’t determine accuracy,” said Paul Andreshak, executive director of Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter. He emphasized that without fully knowing how the study was done, he could not accurately comment on its claims.

Georgia Department of Labor Hinesville office employment marketing representative P.J. Schneider voiced the same sentiment. He said that after speaking with others in his department, he did not know enough about the information to comment on it. 

The data comes from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, which analyzes changes in the nation’s 366 metropolitan areas based on information it collects from other agencies, according to Department of Commerce economist David Lenze.

Study definitions indicate that “personal income is the income received from all sources … the sum of net earnings by place of residence, property income and personal current transfer receipts,” the Bureau of Economic Analysis site said. Liberty and Long counties comprised the Hinesville-Fort Stewart metropolitan statistical area.

The study relied on reports from the Department of Defense, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Internal Revenue Service and agencies that make payments, such as the Social Security Administration, Lenze said.

The study’s findings indicate that the top four areas of personal income growth — Elizabethtown, Ky., Lawton, Okla., Manhattan, Kan., and Hinesville — were heavily influenced by military presence, where personal incomes grew by 14 percent or more in 2010. Elizabethtown is just south of Fort Knox and Lawton is south of Fort Sill, while Manhattan is just east of Fort Riley.

The four Army posts were undergoing personnel expansions in 2010, Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership Director Jeff Ricketson said.

According to the most recent Command Data Summary, as of Sept. 30, 2010, Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield saw an increase in both military and civilian pay from 2009 to 2010.

In 2010, civilian pay was up by $16,709,100, or 8.46 percent, from 2009, for a total of $213,864,200. In the same period, military pay increased 9.6 percent, or $113,978,970 to $1,301,374,189.

But citing pending communications from Fort Stewart’s financial office, spokesman Kevin Larson was not able to explain the factors behind the increase at press time.

Ricketson speculated that one cause for the income boom could be the estimated $475 monthly deployment stipend soldiers received in addition to their regular pay. Larson was not able to confirm the amount by press time.

About 11,000 Fort Stewart troops were deployed from late 2009 to the same time in 2010, while another 3,000 troops were deployed from summer 2010 until spring of this year, Larson said.

Because the reporting agency and Fort Stewart both offered little elaboration on the raw data, it is hard to discern how or whether combat pay for deployed troops factored into the reports.

When asked to explain how deployment pay factored into the figures, Lenze explained that the DoD data reporting did not offer details and referred the Courier to Fort Stewart, where representatives declined comment.

A potential increase in personnel is another possible explanation for the raise, Ricketson said.

According to the Command Data Summary, the installations saw the arrival of 9,381 active-duty military personnel in 2009, and 4,601 left the area. In 2010, another 5,675 arrived and 2,204 left — a smaller increase than the previous year.

According to Andreshak, the installation was authorized to hire an estimated 1,000 additional employees, but it’s hard to gauge whether those positions were actually filled.

“Would 1,000 people out of 22,000 bring us up by the percentage they’re indicating?” he asked. “In reality, everyone I talk to at Fort Stewart tells me they haven’t had a significant increase in soldiers.”

Whether the study took unemployment rate changes into account is another factor that gives caution to local experts.

During 2010, the unemployment rate for metro Hinesville fluctuated between 8.0 percent and 8.9 percent, according to the Department of Labor online database. The most recent unemployment report for the area shows a reported unemployment rate of 9.9 percent in June, up from 8.7 percent in May.

“Based upon what I see from the release, the only way to increase overall income by family by that kind of percentage is to have more people employed,” Andreshak said.

In fact, that’s the one area that Ricketson and Andreshak agree makes sense: the construction of Fort Stewart’s 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team complex, which began in June 2009. The complex, which now has two buildings in their final stages, was under construction during the entirety of 2010.

The Army Corps of Engineers oversaw the project that called on six contractors to create a “mini city” with 20 barracks, a physical fitness facility, a brigade headquarters, a medical clinic, a dining facility and infrastructure work within a two-year span, according to a Corps of Engineers fact sheet.

Prime contractors included Walbridge Aldinger, Archer Western, HS Joint Venture, Megan Construction, M.A. Mortensen, and Brasfield & Gorie, Savannah District Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Billy Birdwell said. These companies likely hired local subcontractors to complete different aspects of the labor.

“Granted, not all of the money stays there locally,” Birdwell said, adding that laborers always impact an area’s economy when they purchase materials, fuel, food and lodging.

“This can have a significant impact on the local community,” he said. “How much? I can’t tell you … we don’t keep track of that information.”

 

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