The threat of automatic, across-the-board military budget cuts in 2013 already is hurting the civilian economy, the head of the Fort Bragg Regional Alliance said Friday.
"Some will tell you sequestration has not happened yet, and they would be right, except that we are already feeling the impacts of sequestration," said Greg Taylor, executive director of the alliance.
Taylor spoke to about 180 people at the alliance's annual meeting at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church.
Sequestration is the term for budget cuts scheduled to take place after Jan. 1 unless Congress acts to stop them.
"Defense companies are preparing for layoffs," Taylor said. "They are delaying hiring, even companies that produce products that are vital to our national defense. ... If it happens, sequestration will cut meat. If it happens, sequestration will impact training, maintenance and equipment. It will impact new research and development that's needed to ensure our forces are the best equipped and trained in the world."
The alliance, an 11-county organization, began as the BRAC Regional Task Force in 2006 in response to military growth from base realignment. The deadline for BRAC moves, which included the relocation of a four-star headquarters to Fort Bragg, was last year, but alliance continues to address military-related regional issues from education to mental health. The organization still works with the Pentagon's Office of Economic Adjustment, which helps local communities cope with military changes.
Speakers said that even if the sequestration issue is resolved, the military is getting smaller in response to the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We know that our budgets are going to get smaller," said Maj. Gen. Jack O'Connor, Forces Command's head of logistics.
The Army probably will announce results of its reorganization and reductions later this month, said Col. Jeff Sanborn, Fort Bragg's garrison commander.
"For the external observer, the impact will probably appear relatively small," Sanborn said.
Fort Bragg has about 55,000 soldiers and an annual economic impact on the surrounding counties of more than $10.9 billion annually, Sanborn said.
Harnett County's Tim McNeill, who has been involved with the organization since its beginning in 2005, stepped down as chairman.
Jean Powell of Hoke County will replace McNeill.
"There were counties that had never talked to the military base, Fort Bragg, in their existence," McNeill said in an emotional farewell address. "That's amazing. ... Everybody operated in a vacuum. One thing I can proudly say, this organization eliminated the vacuum."