Here Comes the New Fort Knox
With the armor command leaving and the arrival of human resources, information technology, and combat troops, the region gets ready for the 21st century work force
Krista Selph and her husband had talked about starting a business someday. But thatï¿½s about as far as they got until the Army posted Matt at Fort Knox. Thatï¿½s when things started to happen.
First, Krista missed having a coffee shop nearby to satisfy her morning caffeine routine. They started thinking a shop with a drive-through, for working moms, could be the answer to their entrepreneurial ambitions.
Then they learned that a huge realignment at Fort Knox would make the area a destination for hundreds of civilian white-collar professionals.
ï¿½That was the icing on the cake,ï¿½ says Krista.
As owners of Bearclaw Coffee, a gourmet coffee shop, with a double drive-through window in Radcliff, the Selphs are poised to share in the economic benefits expected from the changes at Fort Knox.
Todayï¿½s transformation of Fort Knox began in 2005. Thatï¿½s when the Department of Defense announced a sweeping Base Realignment and Closure reorganization. Part of that plan consolidates most of the Armyï¿½s Human Resource-oriented operations into the Human Resources Center of Excellence command at Fort Knox. That realignment will bring together human resource operations from St. Louis, Missouri; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Alexandria and Ft. Monroe in Virginia.
ï¿½This is going to be the human resources capital of the country,ï¿½ says Tim Asher, former president and chief executive officer of the Elizabethtown-Hardin County Chamber of Commerce.
The move will bring more than 5,000 military and civilian white-collar jobs into communities in Breckinridge, Bullitt, Grayson, Hardin, Jefferson, Larue, Meade, and Nelson counties.
Those additional workers and their families are expected to increase the regionï¿½s population by 13,000 when the realignment is complete in September 2011.
Another measure of the scope of the coming change can be found in the construction now under way to prepare for all these new people.
More than 500 civilian, contracted construction workers are at Fort Knox daily, preparing the massive Human Resources Center of Excellence complex, says Maj. Gen. James M. Milano, Commanding General of U.S. Army Armor Center and Fort Knox.
That structure includes six interconnected buildings of 4,418 office spaces and 3,765 parking spaces.
And it wonï¿½t be just Army green. Gen. Milano says, ï¿½The project will be built to achieve (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) Silver design standards using recycled and renewable materials with energy reduction levels to meet requirements.ï¿½
All that activity at Fort Knox represents huge change for the economy of the surrounding communities.
The realignment will generate hundreds of high-paying human resource and information technology jobs, says Brad Richardson, executive director of One Knox, an agency established to act as a liaison between civilian communities and Fort Knox.
ï¿½These jobs, especially mid- to upper-level management, will typically pay more annually than existing jobs in those sectors in this area,ï¿½ says Richardson.
Gen. Milano expects about 30 percent of the existing human resources work force will follow their jobs from Virginia, St. Louis, and Indianapolis. For the other positions, he says, ï¿½We think that at least 1,400 Department of the Army civilians will need to be hired and weï¿½ll do that through a worldwide search for qualified personnel.ï¿½
One Knoxï¿½s Richardson sees several results that call for planning by local leaders.
ï¿½We anticipate that some employees will leave their current jobs to go work at the post,ï¿½ says Richardson. ï¿½As a result, some local business owners are going to have short-term difficulty filling those positions.ï¿½
In response, educators and economic development specialists are working together to fill those projected gaps. An initiative administered through the Lincoln Trail Area Development District called Wired65 has focused on economic and work force development in a 26-county region in north-central Kentucky and southern Indiana.
Schools and colleges throughout the region are increasing technology and other skill-based course offerings to build the regionï¿½s skilled work force over the long term.
For example, Elizabethtown Community and Technical College has already increased its computer science, math, and business course offerings both on campus and online. The school also offers an ï¿½Army 101ï¿½ course to familiarize civilian workers with military protocol and terminology.
The full impact of the Fort Knox realignment wonï¿½t be realized until the realignment process is complete late next year. But John Tindall, owner of a commercial and residential property management firm, and chairman of the North Hardin Economic Development Authority, believes the realignmentï¿½s impact cannot be understated.
ï¿½This is the greatest opportunity of my lifetime and itï¿½s going to last,ï¿½ says Tindall. ï¿½But small-business owners are going to have to be creative and find a niche to take advantage of the opportunities.ï¿½
At Bearclaw Coffee, Krista Selph believes sheï¿½s already done that.
ï¿½We made a significant investment and weï¿½re holding our breath,ï¿½ Selph says. ï¿½Itï¿½s exciting to be part of the growth happening in this community.ï¿½
The thousands of human resource and information technology jobs coming to north-central Kentucky with the Fort Knox realignment will call for a new emphasis on education in the region.
That shift puts a spotlight on the North Central Education Foundation, which has been supporting higher education institutions in the area for some 50 years.
Kentuckians will need to upgrade skills to compete in the regionï¿½s new job market. Providing convenient ways for workers to get those skills is a top focus for Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Al Rider.
Among the Foundationï¿½s more recent efforts has been helping Spalding University establish a branch just outside Fort Knoxï¿½s gates in Radcliff. The Spalding site joins Western Kentucky University and a number of other schools providing a variety of educational alternatives. All offer flexible class schedules and online learning to attract working adults.
ï¿½Itï¿½s about accommodating people such as the working mother who needs more education to advance in her job,ï¿½ says Rider. ï¿½Itï¿½s also about cultivating a lifelong learning culture in central Kentucky.ï¿½
The Foundation is in the process of finalizing an agreement to locate branches of Sullivan University, Midway College, Lindsey Wilson College, Webster University, Tandem Solutions, and McConnell Technology & Training Center in the former Challenger Learning Center in Radcliff.
ï¿½We want to provide every opportunity for education advancement and we want to provide it locally,ï¿½ says Rider. ï¿½When you cluster educational opportunities, you increase enrollments because people see what they need and know they can get it locally. It draws people.ï¿½
REALIGNMENT SCORECARD: WHO'S LEAVING, WHO'S ARRIVING
In 2005 the militaryï¿½s Base Realignment and Closure made huge organizational changes that created eight Army Centers of Excellence.
Under that initiative, more than 4,300 people would leave Fort Knox. The biggest departure sends more than 4,200 people from the Armor Center and School to the Maneuver Center of Excellence in Fort Benning, Georgia.
The moving of the armor center is explained this way by Maj. Gen. James M. Milano, Commanding General of U.S. Army Armor Center and Fort Knox: ï¿½Fort Knox has served as the ï¿½Home of Armorï¿½ since 1940 and, in that time, it has trained practically every armor soldier who has fought for our great nation. However, armor soldiers on tanks and infantry soldiers on foot have always worked together on the battlefield. It makes sense to have them train together now.ï¿½
More than 9,400 personnel will be arriving at Fort Knox, combining several groups into the Human Resources Center of Excellence. About 3,500 of that number will be under the Human Resources Command, which is the Armyï¿½s military personnel office, and will be located at the Human Resources Center of Excellence.
The realignment also brings in several other units, the largest being more than 3,400 from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas.
The change is expected to bring a population increase to the area of 13,000 personnel and their families by the time realignment is completed September 15, 2011.
GETTING READY FOR A MODERN WORK FORCE
Regional leaders around Fort Knox expect cultural and economic shifts in the coming couple of years as the postï¿½s new mission adds many more highly skilled, white-collar jobs.
An initiative called Wired65 is aimed at preparing the region for a 21st-century work force.
Fueled by a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to the state of Kentucky, Wired65 brings together employers, educators, and nonprofit and government agencies to identify the jobs of the future and prepare workers to fill those positions.
After months of study, Wired65 announced a regional economic strategy for the 26 counties in north-central Kentucky and southern Indiana. The strategy identified growth industry sectors as information technology, advanced manufacturing, transportation/distribution/logistics, health care, human resources, agriculture, and tourism. Emerging sectors included energy technologies and entrepreneurship. These industries will need skilled, technology-savvy workers over the long term, says Wired65 coordinator Debbie Wesslund.
In response to that strategy, Wired65 is investing in programs that connect more of the regionï¿½s citizens to career information and to the training they need for 21st-century jobs.
ï¿½Weï¿½re focused on education for developing new jobs and new ideas,ï¿½ says Wesslund, who is the wife of Kentucky Living editor Paul Wesslund.
Two programs focus on helping employed adults get the technology skills necessary for career advancement. Another seeks to boost college attendance by guiding young people through college application and financial processes.
Another program encourages business owners to establish internships for college students.
ï¿½Worker retention is also very important, and weï¿½ve learned that 50 percent of college students are more likely to remain in an area if theyï¿½ve been employed there,ï¿½ says Wesslund.
Managed by the Lincoln Trail Area Development District based in Elizabethtown, Wired65 was conceived in part to address Fort Knoxï¿½s post-realignment work force needs. But the realignment also created a chance to position Kentuckyï¿½s wider work force for a knowledge-based future. Because employers across all sectors need more highly skilled workers, and the regional economy includes a larger area, the initiative was expanded to cover 19 Kentucky counties and seven southern Indiana counties along I-65, including Louisville.
ï¿½Looking down the road, weï¿½re going to have a well-educated and stable work force,ï¿½ says Wesslund, ï¿½and you have to look at the whole region to achieve that.ï¿½
For information, and even advice, on adjusting to the changes at Fort Knox, go to www.wired65.org.