On May 13, 2005, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld forwarded his recommendations to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission. Fort Knox was one of 26 installations impacted, resulting in a significant transformation of the post. Sixteen years later, we are reflecting on what BRAC 2005 meant for Fort Knox and the surrounding community as well as the changes on post since then. We are also taking stock in some of the lessons learned as a community and how Fort Knox and our region are positioned for the future.
Farewell Armor, Hello Strategic Talent Management and More
For decades Fort Knox had been synonymous with the Armor Center and School, where tankers learned and honed their skills. BRAC 2005 relocated the Armor schoolhouse to Fort Benning, GA. While that change was met with disappointment, we also welcomed several new missions associated with human capital management. U.S. Army Human Resources Command (HRC), U.S. Army Cadet Command and the now inactivated U.S. Army Accessions Command would join U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox. The 2005 BRAC also called for a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) to be activated along with an Engineer Battalion, Expeditionary Sustainment Command and Army Reserve and Army National Guard missions.
In all, BRAC 2005 equated to a net gain of some 5,000 military and civilian personnel as well as contractors. Perhaps even more significant was the shift from trainees who came here on temporary duty to permanent party personnel in more senior positions. That meant significantly higher payroll and spending power in the region and families who were more apt to settle in our communities long-term.
Community Lessons Learned When Preparing for Growth
A Unified Regional Approach Helps Secure Funding: In an effort to prepare for growth off post, community leaders in the Greater Fort Knox Region collaborated through an initiative called One Knox. The unified approach helped secure $251 million in state infrastructure investments for road construction as well as water and wastewater projects to support the anticipated residential and commercial growth.
“We realized greater support and funding by taking a single comprehensive request to the state vs multiple requests from individual municipalities.”
- Brad Richardson, One Knox Executive Director
Consider the Second and Third-Order Effects: While the infrastructure improvements were welcomed, the higher speed limited access roads also drew commuters away from some of the more heavily trafficked commercial corridors near Fort Knox. That was good for the commuters and overall safety, but not necessarily good for the businesses in those now less-trafficked commercial corridors. Local business leaders who point to those challenges still consider the infrastructure investments valuable and the 2005 BRAC positive. The lesson learned is it is also important to plan for the second and third-order effects to mitigate less favorable impacts.
Anticipated and Actual Housing Demand Do Not Always Match Up: Home builders will also tell a cautionary tale of BRAC 2005. At the encouragement of some military leaders, the anticipated growth spurred residential construction well ahead of the new units’ arrivals. Indications were that thousands of homeowners, moving from much higher priced markets, would be poised to buy larger homes. Then came the 2008 housing market crash which left many prospective buyers with far less spending power or unable to buy. Adding to the challenge were a disproportionate number of executive homes, leaving the local market oversaturated and some builders facing financial challenges. While no one could have predicted the housing market crisis, builders in the Greater Fort Knox Region will talk about the delicate balance of building based on anticipated growth to be ahead of the curve and having a firm demand signal from buyers based on actual market conditions.
Mission Loss and Threat of More Spur Community Action
In 2012, not long after all the BRAC moves were completed, the Army determined that the missions U.S. Army Accessions Command led could be realigned and decided to inactivate the unit. While, by population, it was a relatively small command, strategically it meant the post would no longer have a 3-star command. Even more disappointing was the 2014 inactivation of the Brigade Combat Team (BCT) resulting in a loss of 3,500 Soldiers at Fort Knox. The decision came amid changing national defense priorities and budget cuts. When the Department of Defense considered additional cuts (as many as 4,100 positions), the community rallied with a coordinated advocacy effort. The region held a community town hall with defense officials and undertook an electronic letter writing campaign that some say helped spare the post from additional cuts.
The losses and the potential threat of more served as a wake-up call to community leaders who sought to raise the bar of the existing advocacy work for Fort Knox. In 2016, with support from private and public sector investors, the Knox Regional Development Alliance (KRDA) was born. Every day the KRDA team is singularly focused on maximizing Fort Knox’s economic impact and making sure the community does all it can to support Fort Knox Soldiers and their families. While we are very careful not to take credit for the recent growth on and off post, KRDA’s work helps set the conditions that make Fort Knox and our community as competitive as possible when opportunities arise.
Fort Knox Today
So, what does Fort Knox look like 16 years post BRAC 2005? The installation has certainly changed, but it is unequivocally critical to our nation’s defense.
- The Army’s number one priority is its people and with its various missions, Fort Knox is at the veritable epicenter of strategic talent management.
- The installation’s world-class training areas and ranges are among the most utilized in the Army and demand will only grow when construction of the new Digital Air Ground Integration Range (DAGIR) is complete in 2023, making it the Army’s only one east of the Mississippi.
- The post’s energy resilience program is the most decorated in the Department of Defense and can, if need be, operate completely independent of external providers, making Fort Knox especially well-suited for missions with large IT infrastructure needs.
- The recent decision to locate the Army’s newest corps headquarters – V Corps – at Fort Knox further adds to the post’s strategic value and is spurring additional defense sector growth off post as well.
- Community quality of life and support to the installation is regularly touted as among the very best in the nation.
At KRDA, it is an honor to tell the Fort Knox story each and every day. Want to learn more about Fort Knox or defense sector business opportunities in one of the greatest communities in the nation? Contact us.