In the coming months, our region and state must confront an economic threat as daunting as the challenge to build Boeing's next-generation...

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In the coming months, our region and state must confront an economic threat as daunting as the challenge to build Boeing’s next-generation airplane here in Washington.

But like the competition to assemble the Boeing 787 in Washington, there is opportunity as well as danger.

This new threat — and opportunity — to our region’s economic health is called Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), an intensive process by the federal government to cut the number of military bases in the nation by as much as 25 percent this year. In many cases, when bases close, their military operations will be transferred to the remaining bases.

An increase in military operations here would, of course, be economically beneficial. However, the loss of even a single major military installation in Washington would devastate the local community in which it is located. And the economic impacts would ripple throughout the state.

The Department of Defense is the largest employer in Pierce, Kitsap and Island counties and the second-largest in Snohomish County. The impact would be felt in King County as well. Local firms in King County currently have contracts with the military valued at $175 million a year, by far the highest of any county in the state.

Without a strong military presence in the region, good-paying jobs would simply drift away at companies like Todd Shipyards of Seattle, recently awarded a $16 million contract for dry-dock repairs to the USS Ford. Statewide, military bases directly employ 83,000 workers — roughly equivalent to Boeing and Microsoft combined — and support another 105,000 jobs, for an annual payroll of $7.3 billion.

Gov. Christine Gregoire and legislators in both parties have been strong supporters of local community efforts to present our best case in the BRAC process and should be commended for their efforts. One of the governor’s very first acts in office was to pledge support for our military bases.

The governor is personally leading bipartisan delegations to Washington, D.C., to make the case that Washington state is uniquely capable of fulfilling critical national defense needs. Rather than close bases here, the BRAC commissioners and the Pentagon should be thinking about expanding in Washington, about taking advantage of our protected, deep-water ports and cutting-edge military units at bases like Fort Lewis and Naval Station Everett.

Given what we know about BRAC criteria, we believe there is a good chance we can increase the military’s presence here. But like most things of value, it will not come free or easily.

Working with the Legislature, local communities where there is a strong military presence, and The Regional Partnership, the governor is developing a statewide BRAC action plan built around her proposal to set aside $10 million in the state budget specifically to address military-base needs.

It won’t be easy to find an additional $10 million in a budget that is already $2 billion in the red. But we have little choice. The economic consequences of losing a major military installation are too great, and the opportunities too tantalizing.

We mobilized a bipartisan statewide campaign, single-minded in its focus on saving the aerospace industry in Washington. We must mount that same kind of effort to ensure that we preserve all of Washington’s military bases.

At the end of the day, we may even see an increase in military employment. That would be good for the economic health of our region and, we truly believe, for the defense of our nation.

Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon are steering-committee members of The Regional Partnership (, a bipartisan coalition of some 1,200 community leaders in the central Puget Sound working to improve the regional economy.