Anniston Army Depot, AL – Economic Development Strategic Plan & Workforce Retention Strategy

The Challenge Located in Anniston, Alabama, the Anniston Army Depot (the Depot) is one of a small number of US Army installations charged with neutralizing or destroying the country’s chemical weapons stockpiles. The chemical demilitarization process, which began in August 2003, was completed in September 2011. Although the majority of the associated workforce — nearly 1,000 workers — are expected to remain in place into 2015 as part of the facility’s remediation, these positions will ultimately be terminated unless a new mission is identified. In addition to the anticipated job losses from the conclusion of the chemical weapons incineration program, the Depot has also been affected by a reduction in workload resulting from cuts in defense spending and the conclusion of military actions in Iraq. Recognizing the valuable asset this workforce represents, the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission (EARPDC), together with the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber), applied for and received a grant from the Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) to help retain these workers in the region.

The Approach As part of the OEA grant, the EARPDC and the Chamber engaged TIP Strategies to document the skill sets of the affected workers and prepare a regional strategy to connect those skills with the needs of current and future employers. We began by documenting the geographic reach of the installation using published data on commuting patterns and ZIP Code data supplied by the Depot and related partners. The labor shed affected by the Depot losses was defined as a six-county region centered on Calhoun County and including five neighboring counties—Cleburne, Cherokee, Etowah, St. Clair, and Talladega. Other key elements of the project included helping the Chamber set up a job-matching system as part of its Operation 1st RATE (Ready Able Trained Employees) initiative, compiling regional workforce assets, and providing assistance to industry recruitment efforts.

The Outcome Continued uncertainty about the federal budget and the prospects of additional cuts in defense spending suggest that support for the Depot is more important than ever. The leadership’s aggressive approach to the retention of the Depot workforce through Operation First RATE (O1R) provided immediate results by helping to match many of the affected workers to local employers. Building on this success will require concerted action on multiple fronts. First, O1R should form the basis of a dedicated regional marketing campaign promoting the availability of a trained and dedicated workforce and raising awareness of the importance of talent to the region’s current and future economic vitality. A successful talent-driven strategy must also include local postsecondary institutions (such as Gadsden State Community College and Jacksonville State University) to ensure the region’s future talent pipeline matches employer need. Creating new employment opportunities – through a more aggressive approach to corporate recruitment, business retention and expansion, as well as new business formation and entrepreneurship – is also part of a comprehensive approach.

TIP Contact Tom Stellman

Photo credit for above three images: US Army Chemical Materials Activity.