By Manhattan Mercury, June 29
If major cuts occur at Fort Riley, the impact to the Manhattan area would be staggering.
But it’s important to emphasize the first word in that sentence: If.
The Army is studying what cuts would mean to its installations. That’s part of the process of reducing troop levels and cutting spending as the wars of the past decade wind down. A report released this past Thursday indicated that a worst-case scenario of cutting 16,000 jobs at Fort Riley would mean employment in the region would drop by 27.9 percent, and the population would shrink by 30.5 percent. We’re talking about more than 40,000 people leaving the area. Income would drop 14.4 percent.
Breathtaking, to be sure.
But a few words of perspective — absent from some of the initial news reports by other media outlets about the study, by the way — are in order. The report doesn’t claim that such cuts are going to happen, or that they should happen. It simply tries to assess the impact in the event that they did happen.
In a sense, the report is the Army reminding us all of its importance, here and elsewhere.
Anybody paying attention around here already knows that. We’ve seen the effect of major cuts in the mid-1990s, which forced the Manhattan region to stagger along for a decade. We’ve seen the boom times of the past decade, when the size of Fort Riley was boosted following 9/11. Manhattan cruised through the recession better than almost anywhere else in the country as a result. All those “top places” lists on which Manhattan has appeared for the past several years? Well, growth at Fort Riley is a major reason why.
Were it to collapse, we’d be in a world of hurt. Clearly, the military is in cutback mode, and so we can’t pretend that this is entirely meaningless. They’re not doing impact studies of major additions at Army bases, you know. They’re talking cuts. Fort Riley seems more likely to shrink in the intermediate term than to grow.
But we’re confident local and state leaders are keenly aware of all this and will make the best case to protect Fort Riley. That is obviously a crucial job. It doesn’t happen by accident. All of us need to be mindful of that. Citizens ought to participate in the process to make sure the Army, Congress and anyone else knows how important Fort Riley is.
But before anybody panics, let’s realize that all we’re really talking so far is hypotheticals.