By Brig. Gen. (ret) Jim Iacocca
One hundred years ago this month (August, 1918) during World War I, the United States Army leased 20,000 acres of property in the area of Stithton, Ky., a small farming community in Hardin County. Chosen for its high ground and proximity to the railroad, the Army later acquired the land along with parts of Meade and Bullitt counties and named it Camp Knox, in honor of General Henry Knox, Chief of Artillery in the Revolutionary War and first Secretary of War.
Over the past century, millions of soldiers and their families have trained or have been stationed at the iconic post. Now more than 100,000 acres, Fort Knox has been and continues to be an invaluable tool in our nation’s defense arsenal.
First home to field artillery units, then for decades the Army’s Armor Training Center where soldiers learned the art of armored or tank warfare, today Fort Knox is a multi-faceted installation with a wide array of missions including human capital management, leadership development, recruitment, reserve training, reserve aviation and active component engineering and sustainment commands.
While it is no doubt a great asset for the Department of Defense (DOD) and a source of patriotic pride for Central Kentuckians, people often underestimate Fort Knox’s economic value to our region.
For example, more than 16,000 people – soldiers, Department of the Army civilian employees and contractors - work at Fort Knox each day and that doesn’t include the hundreds if not thousands of Soldiers who, on any given day, are on post for training.
Those 16,000 jobs equate to upwards of $750 million in annual payroll. That incredible spending power fuels another estimated 27,000 jobs off post. All told, the annual economic impact of Fort Knox is $2.6 billion dollars. That’s worth repeating - an annual economic impact of $2.6 billion dollars.
Further, the potential for greater economic impact exists if DOD adds more organizations to the installation and if we can attract more defense related businesses to our region. That includes:
That just scratches the surface of why Fort Knox is poised to grow and why our region’s economy is poised to grow with it.
That said, we all have a role to play in Fort Knox’s success. Our support to soldiers and their families, our great schools, affordable housing, top-notch healthcare, great transportation networks, as well as the entertainment, retail and outdoor recreation options we have in Central Kentucky provide an unmatched quality of place that makes Fort Knox all the more attractive. That’s why it should come as no surprise that the Association of Defense Communities named the Greater Fort Knox Region a 2018 Great American Defense Community, one of only five in the country.
It is a well-deserved recognition but also an opportunity to set the bar even higher. We have to be vigilant in our efforts to work collaboratively and make our region even better. That’s why we need to support the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board’s efforts to grow the available talent in our region, because new missions and new businesses need access to a highly skilled labor pool. That’s why we must continue to limit development near Fort Knox so there are no preventable restrictions placed on training operations. That’s why we must continue our steadfast support to soldiers and their families.
As we celebrate Fort Knox’s centennial and our designation as a Great American Defense Community, let’s honor the past with a commitment to the future. Fort Knox 2118 – the possibilities are endless. Here’s to the next 100 years.
Brig. Gen. (Ret) Jim Iacocca is the President and CEO of the Knox Regional Development Alliance, a regional economic development agency committed to promoting and protecting Fort Knox. Brig. Gen. (Ret) Iacocca can be reached at email@example.com.