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2011 - Volume 2 Issue 1
Vida Buena
Article: Joe Burgess
Photos: Joe Burgess
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El Paso’s overall economy has remained strong throughout the nation’s economic downturn due to a number of factors that include the growth at Fort Bliss and the relocation of families from strife-torn Mexico to the El Paso region. The city ranks in the 20 strongest metro economies in the country by the Brookings Institution, #9 for Best Performing Cities by the Milken Institute and #1 in housing starts per thousand in population according to Reed Construction Data.

    Photo Captions

1.) Construction at Fort Bliss off Loop 375

2.) Construction at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

3.) Union Pacific Railroad at Santa Teresa.

4.) Construction at UTEP.

5.) Fort Bliss Commander, Major General Dana J. H. Pittard
  The environmental impact from such growth, of course, could be significant. Major General Pittard, in fact, is very passionate about renewable energy, conservation and green initiatives. He reports, “By December 31, 2015, Team Bliss expects to produce as much energy as we consume. There are numerous steps involved in making this happen, below are just a few:

1.) We need to make sure that as a population, members of Team Bliss are working each day to become better stewards of our environment. This involves a myriad of things to include reducing individual carbon footprint emissions, conservation and recycling.

2.) Our own energy office has hired the first Renewable and Sustainable Energy Engineer to lead all energy projects on Fort Bliss and ensure we are in compliance with local, national and DOD regulations.

3.) The Garrison Command is developing a Sustainment Plan, which focuses on stewardship of our existing resources and identifying resources to meet future requirements as Fort Bliss continues its transformation.”

City of El Paso
Planning & Development

Ft. Bliss
U.S. Army
The third and fourth quarters of 2010 were sluggish, however, and unemployment has been on the rise. Much of the major construction at the state and federal levels has been completed at Fort Bliss, as well as the new federal building downtown, certain UTEP expansions and the I-10 widening between El Paso and Las Cruces.

Despite the winding down of construction at Fort Bliss, the influx of soldiers and their dependents through 2013 will continue to contribute to the city’s growth and economic stability. Regarding housing starts, soldiers tend to live in apartments, as opposed to purchasing a home, but the tightening of apartment availability may entice more to purchase. Most certainly the growth of businesses that benefit from the Fort Bliss expansion will encourage new housing starts.

Here are some intriguing facts about Fort Bliss. The complex became the #1 military post in the U.S. Base Realignment and Closure process, meaning that at this time, it is destined for growth. The purpose of the expansion is to accommodate soldiers from bases that are being closed or reduced in size, thus saving millions of dollars for the military through consolidation. Major General Dana J. H. Pittard, the Fort Bliss Commander, speaking to the 2010 annual banquet of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (EPHCC), noted that Fort Bliss had been lacking one primary ingredient – the water to support a large influx of military personnel. Community and state leaders, however, fought for funds to build the world’s largest inland desalination plant, turning large underground aquifers of brackish water into drinking quality water. That factor plus the huge combined land mass and controlled air space of Fort Bliss, White Sands and Holloman Air Force Base helped push Fort Bliss to the top of the list.

The expansion of Fort Bliss infrastructure and buildings near Loop 375 and elsewhere, a massive project that is nearing completion, has a total price tag of $4.9 billion. The transformation created approximately 64,000 jobs over the course of the project.

Approximately 53% of small business appropriations have gone to El Paso businesses, totaling over $420 million, and in FY 10, over $34 million went to El Paso small businesses.

The anticipated troop population by 2013 will be 34,000, with the number of family members exceeding 48,500. An additional brigade combat team is being considered for transfer to Fort Bliss that would add 3500 soldiers plus their families and dependents to the total. Fort Bliss will be equivalent to a city the size of Las Cruces.

Quality of life issues are a priority concern for the military command. In addition to housing, Fort Bliss has opened several new facilities dealing with shopping, medical, fitness and recreation. Freedom Crossing shopping center was a $100 million project that created more than 900 civilian jobs. Major Myles Caggins of the Public Affairs Office at Fort Bliss stated that, “Freedom Crossing is an amazing new concept for the military we call a Lifestyle Center. The center includes a new PX expansion; new food court; casual dining; 10-screen theater for first run movies; new retail and concessions; and a new commissary.”

Non-ID Card holders have access to all facilities except the Post Exchange (PX) and Commissary which are reserved for Department of Defense ID Card holders only. Because of this amazing facility, Fort Bliss now has modified access control standards for access to the installation during designated periods. In fact, El Paso area civilian residents can access Fort Bliss seven days a week from 9:00 am to midnight with a valid driver’s license, insurance and U.S. plated vehicle.

Currently, 70% of soldiers live off post and even with all the construction, approximately 17,000 soldiers will still reside off post once the transition is complete. The military is considering additional housing to allow a majority of the soldiers to live on post, but obviously there will continue to be a large number in off-post housing.

Providing economic stability into the near future for El Paso, some construction continues at UTEP, including a redesigned Interstate exit, and the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine is expected to contribute $1.31 billion to the local economy. The announced relocation by Union Pacific Railroad to Santa Teresa at a cost of $400 million will no doubt employ a number of El Paso workers during construction and reportedly without reducing any permanent El Paso jobs. Thankfully, despite the turbulence in Juárez, the maquila industry has remained stable. The key driver, however, remains troop growth at Fort Bliss. So why not shake the hand of a soldier, today. Most are far removed from their hometowns and relatives, but as they train to better serve their country, let’s not forget that they are spending their hard-earned paychecks in El Paso. ///
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