Fort Bliss, White Sands Missile Range Expansions Boost Rio Grande Region's Economy
The defense sector thrives in the Rio Grande region. Fort Bliss alone has an annual economic impact of $1.7 billion, a figure projected to grow to $6.4 billion by 2013 as new missions and initiatives are added to the base.
If there is a paradise among U.S. military installations, it must be located in the sprawling Rio Grande Region.
This regional military complex comprises some of the military’s big-league bases: Fort Bliss, Texas, the White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, covering more than 7,100 square miles of ground and air territory and providing the nation with one of the world’s largest and incomparable concentrations of military readiness.
Multiple Critical Missions
In addition to the major bases, a variety of critical missions and activities take place in the southern New Mexico-West Texas area, including land and air unit joint training; professional military education; maintenance and repair; aerospace initiatives, and research, development, test and evaluation activities. Federal government agencies, including the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, have a key presence in the area, along with a network of highly specialized defense contractors.
What this means for the region and communities stretching from Las Cruces, N.M., to El Paso, Texas, is vibrant economic activity, forward-thinking academic institutions, skilled technical workforces, and specialized manufacturing facilities and distribution networks. Moving forward, the region can expect a solid economic future, as well as defense installations that are expanding, not retreating.
Fort Bliss spends about $3.9 billion per year in the area on military payroll for its 32,000 soldiers. Holloman estimates its total economic impact on the region was $693.2 million, accounting for payroll for more than 11,000 military and civilian personnel, contract expenditure and the value of job creation. White Sands employs about 7,000 people on the range in many highly skilled technical occupations.
Fort Bliss' New Role
In May 2011, Fort Bliss officially became the new home of the Army’s historic 1st Armored Division, which had been housed in Wiesbaden, Germany. The base, which covers more than 1.1 million acres in New Mexico and Texas and is headquartered in El Paso, is expected to see its military population swell to 100,000 by 2013. To support that expansion, the Army is spending billions of dollars to construct new, modern facilities for soldiers and their families.
Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, Fort Bliss commanding general, says he expects the expansion to forge even greater ties to the region.
"Fort Bliss is the largest employer in El Paso and a major contributor to the local economy,” Pittard says. "Several thousand jobs on our base are filled by local residents. Our units, organizations and individuals are also involved in the local community in various ways. They sit on boards, we have programs with schools and we partner with local colleges on higher education programs.”
Net Zero Project
Additionally, Fort Bliss is part of the Army's groundbreaking Net Zero energy conservation pilot program. Under the program, selected installations around the country are working on sustainability projects to reduce consumption of energy, water or waste by 2020.
The aim of the program is to move the base to greater energy self-sufficiency, while serving as a model for Army installations worldwide, says B.J. Tomlinson, Fort Bliss renewable energy and sustainability program manager. "The whole concept of energy security doesn’t just apply to war zones," Tomlinson says. "It also applies here at installations."
White Sands Expanding Range Use
White Sands Missile Range in Dona Ana County is a research and training facility for the Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as private and public organizations. Army Col. John G. Ferrari, range commander, says White Sands will expand its footprint as the nation’s leading missile and aerospace installation to include more operational and developmental testing and live fire activities that will rotate in thousands more service members and military contractors.
"The range is going to become more multifunctional with more users coming down the road," he says. "It will be a much more diverse user group than in the past."