NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Happy Endings After Military Base Closures

June 5, 2000

Things looked bleak for Portsmouth, N.H., when the Pentagon announced in 1988 that it was closing Pease Air Force Base there. Such moves are usually seen as serious threats to local economies which depend upon the jobs and incomes of military and civilian base personnel.

By March 1991, Pease had become the first military base in the country closed in what became four rounds of closings intended to save the Pentagon money. But Portsmouth survived and flourished, observers report, and all of the major bases closed in 1992 and 1993 have more employees now than when they closed. The jury is still out on towns with bases that have closed since 1994 -- but most seem to be doing well.

Here are some actions and results that allowed Portsmouth to survive:

  • The state of New Hampshire coaxed Portsmouth and neighboring Newington to work under its newly-established Pease Development Authority to develop a plan to utilize the base and attract new business -- with the reconverted base to be called the Pease International Tradeport.
  • Today, its more than 100 businesses account for about 4,100 jobs and Pease has commitments for almost 2,000 more.
  • Base tenants include the resurrected Pan American Airways, a hotel, high-tech firms, a pharmaceutical company, two state colleges, a passport and visa center, a golf course and a brewery.
  • The former base has 2.7 million square feet occupied or under construction for businesses -- with another 1 million expected for this year.

Like many bases, there were environmental problems due to waste left behind by the airfield. There were also concerns about noise and traffic from new development, as well as disagreements over control and how the land should be used.

But today, companies which had been considering leaving the vicinity in order to expand say they stayed because Pease offered the kind of room they needed.

Source: Associated Press, "Pease Air Force Base Closing Becomes a Surprising Economic Success Story," Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2000.


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