Military adds might to S.C., local economy

Joint Base Charleston, which includes the Air Force Base and its fleet of C-17 cargo jets, is the biggest military contributor to South Carolina’s economy, a new study shows.

COLUMBIA — The U.S. military pumps $19.3 billion into South Carolina’s economy each year, according to a new report released Wednesday by Gov. Nikki Haley’s military advisory panel.

The study by economists at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina said the state’s military community supports 152,812 jobs that provide $8.6 billion in labor income for state residents.

The report says more than half those jobs are in the private sector, with an average annual income of $56,105.

“This report reinforces that our overall military footprint — from our active bases to the Reserve to our military retirees — is a vital part of the state’s economy,” said Bill Bethea, chairman of the Military Base Task Force. “Recognizing this link, our Task Force has worked hard with our elected officials on new legislation to ensure that South Carolina continues to be a military-friendly state, and we’re heartened by the progress on these initiatives.”

The study says the $19.3 billion figure represents the dollar value of all goods and services produced in the state that can be attributed to the military community.

Joint Base Charleston is the largest contributor at $7.4 billion. It is followed by the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center-Atlantic in Charleston at nearly $3.7 billion. Fort Jackson in Columbia and Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter both contribute $2 billion, the report shows.

Under the report’s definition, South Carolina’s military community includes the eight major military installations, members of the National Guard and Army Reserve, as well as more than 600 defense-contracting firms and nearly 58,000 military retirees residing in the state.

Bethea has said his panel wants to improve on South Carolina’s reputation for being friendly to the military, and wants to persuade lawmakers to exempt military retirees from state income taxes. He argues that this will increase the number of retirees attracted to the state, and thereby grow the economy.

During the last legislative session, a bill exempting military retiree pay from the state income tax passed the House but came up too late for the Senate to vote on it.

The S.C. Board of Economic Advisors has said the tax generates at least $22 million a year in revenue.