In the 1997 movie “Dante’s Peak,” a small Pacific Northwest town is destroyed by a volcano — ironically, as it is about to get an award for being a fast-growing, great place to live.
A similar fate could now befall a pair of Georgia counties. Both could be hurt by the government shutdown, just as they are recognized for being two of the fastest growing counties in the country.
How Chattahoochee and Long Counties Topped Growth Charts
The government shutdown won’t let you see the Census Bureau data on the fastest growing counties today. But the Hinesville Coastal Courier is still open, and they published the results of the Census Bureau study finding Georgia’s Chattahoochee and Long counties among the top 10 growing counties in the country. These findings were echoed by the Atlanta Real Estate Forum.
“Chattahoochee County was named the third-fastest growing county in the United States, growing by more than 15 percent from April 2010 to July 2012, and Long County was right behind at No. 5 with a population increase of more than 11 percent in the same period,” reported the Atlanta Real Estate Forum. Growth at military bases Fort Benning and Fort Stewart was cited as one reason.
How The Military Boosted Both Georgia Counties
“Chattahoochee County, south of Columbus on the Alabama line, is mostly Fort Benning and has seen some modest growth as a result of realignments in which the big base absorbed the functions of others around the county,” said veteran reporter Tom Baxter with the Saporta Report.
“Long County, between Hinesville and Jesup, is similarly close to Fort Stewart, home of the 3rd Infantry Division. It’s the troops from these bases, plus their dependents and the retail stores which cater to them, which account for these counties’ growth,” Baxter added, citing research from University of Georgia demographer Doug Bachtel.
Could the Government Shutdown And Potential Cuts Squash Both Georgia Counties?
But instead of a natural disaster like the one in “Dante’s Peak,” a manmade one could swamp both counties. A government shutdown would delay military pay, according to Kate Brennan with Politico.
This would be different from the shutdowns of the 1990s, where the military was paid, according to a CNN report from the Pentagon, which analyzed the pitfalls of the last debt ceiling debate. Ben Wright with the Columbus Ledger Enquirer suggested the cuts could amount to 25 percent at Fort Benning And Fort Stewart spent the summer bracing for furloughs and cuts as well, according to WUSA.
“Yes, goodness!” replied Hinesville Coastal Courier managing editor Hollie Barnidge in response to an interview question about whether the Fort Stewart region was concerned about budget cuts. “There are civilians who rely upon Fort Stewart for business. It’s been a real economic engine for us. We’re watching what’s coming out of Washington very closely.”
But that doesn’t mean these two growing Georgia counties are helpless. “Budget cuts affecting Fort Benning have the potential to slow growth, but we wouldn’t be in a huge world of hurt,” said Thomas Wheeler, the Chattahoochee county manager, in an interview. “We have managed to keep a modest set-up in terms of local government spending. We don’t have bloated budgets. We have very little debt and overhead.”
The Solution: Keep It Simple
Wheeler, a longtime resident of Chattahoochee County, pointed out in the interview that Chattahoochee County has benefits other than proximity to a military base.
“We don’t want or have the huge headaches of big cities,” the Chattahoochee County manager continued. “We keep it rural. We have nice small towns. Folks come through here after being posted at Fort Benning and choose to live here because they like it so much.”
That’s the secret another military-area county, Columbia County, discovered. Rather than rely on the whims of government spending, the community near Augusta, Georgia, focused on outdoor living, good schools, and an overall healthy quality of life to attract residents and businesses.
Looking Toward the Future
Forbes Magazine contends that the Gulf Coast may be the source of future growth. Authors Joel Kotkin and March Schill attribute this to being energy hubs, connections to a growing Latin America, and a diversified economy.
If both counties can continue to find ways to diversify their economies as well, making them less dependent upon a source like the government or military, they could be able to sustain such growth and weather the government shutdown from Washington, D.C.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia.