Taskforce bids to lure headquarters of US Africa Command to county
By Shearon Roberts
Members of a public-private taskforce to lure the US Africa Command to Miami-Dade County say they're working to lay groundwork required to house another military command here.
There's no guarantee the county could win in its bid, or that US AFRICOM would eventually relocate from Germany.
"Our commander, Gen. William Ward has made it officially clear, when asked, that there are no plans in the foreseeable future to move the US Africa Command from Kelley Barracks in Stuttgard, Germany," said Patrick Barnes, a Pentagon spokesman for the US AFRICOM.
Mr. Barnes said Germany was chosen in 2007 as site for the command because infrastructure was already in place at the barracks, the time zones were the same as in Africa and direct flights from Europe to Africa were abundant.
However, taskforce members say the high cost of operating in Europe has prompted the Department of Defense to consider moving the command to a US site by 2012 or 2013. In the meantime, taskforce members say Miami-Dade wants to be ahead of the competition once the Defense Department is ready.
"We are the closest location to Africa of all other major cities," said Dennis Moss, Miami-Dade County Commission chairman, who met with Pentagon officials last year about AFRICOM. "If we can attract that command to Miami-Dade, that would bring a positive impact on our community."
Thanks to the US Southern Command in Miami and the Homestead Air Reserve Base, the military sector generates $3.7 billion in county economic activity and supports 25,000 direct jobs and 45,000 more indirectly, said Diana Gonzalez, Beacon Council coordinator for the Miami-Dade Defense Alliance. Those numbers, she said, exclude economic activity generated by Coast Guard operations.
US AFRICOM currently holds a $300 million budget and supports 800 jobs, Ms. Gonzalez said. Since the command was established only in 2007, that annual budget and job impact could increase, she said.
Moving the command here has an added incentive. It would help protect the military presence already in Miami-Dade, Mr. Moss said. The stronger the military presence in the county, he said, the more protected Homestead Air Reserve Base becomes from Defense Base Closure and Realignment, also known as BRAC.
The county's April 7, 2009, resolution to campaign for the command set aside land adjacent to the Homestead base for relocating AFRICOM headquarters, Ms. Gonzalez said. The Homestead base has a 24-hour runway, military support and recently rebuilt facilities after Hurricane Andrew. Additionally, she added, the Department of Defense can also consider other available land in the county that would be suitable for AFRICOM.
"This is part of our effort to expand military missions here," Ms. Gonzalez said. "If you lose a shoe factory you can get another shoe manufacturer, but if you lose the military you can't get it back."
The taskforce's early bid to attract the command can help boost trade and investment ties with Africa. It is one reason the team is working to get the private sector aboard the effort, officials said.
"We want Miami-Dade County to be the gateway to Africa as Miami-Dade County is a gateway to Latin America and the rest of the world," Mr. Moss said. "We are trying to get direct shipping and airfreight to Africa and to develop different agreements with sister cities in Africa, to open the doors for opportunity for bilateral trade."
The groundwork involves treating the bid to attract AFRICOM as though it were a major multinational, Ms. Gonzalez said.
This year, the taskforce will work to secure grants from the county, the Miami-Dade Defense Alliance and the Economic Development Administration to cover advocacy costs of pitching the county's assets at a federal level, she said.
The Beacon Council is also putting together a capability statement for the taskforce that would outline the county's infrastructure and ability to house the command, she said.
The county and city government entities are to bring chambers of commerce and private-sector groups to the team to emphasize trade and investment with the continent and to encourage new links.
"The reason for going after AFRICOM is because we believe we can support another command and we feel we have the background experience." Ms. Gonzalez said. "We could win or not, but this is the type of project that if you don't make an effort to go after, you'll never know."
Miami Dade is not without competition. Areas like Atlanta and Fort Bragg in North Carolina have expressed interest in AFRICOM should the command relocate.
"The one thing we may be perceived as weak is with direct flights with Africa," Ms. Gonzalez said. "We have flights connecting to Africa through the Canary Islands, but that is certainly something that can be fixed to strengthen our position."
The other main competitors, though, no longer have direct flights to the continent, said Fred Oladeinde, president of the Foundation for Democracy in Africa, the developmental organization handling the taskforce's outreach in Washington.
The head start on the bid to secure AFRICOM allows the county to fill in some gaps, as it successfully did in order to bring SOUTHCOM, Mr. Oladeinde said.
"We are working to put in place critical elements such as flights and access to a pool of workforce to support the operations," Mr. Oladeinde said.
More importantly, the county is making its case at the federal level. Last year, a team visited the Pentagon to discuss with the Defense Department, the county's interest in AFRICOM.
And last September, the taskforce met with Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, deputy assistant secretary for Africa who overseas the command, as part of the foundation's annual AfrICANDO conference held in Miami.
For the 2010 AfrICANDO conference in June, the foundation is tentatively planning to invite Gen. William E. Ward, commander for AFRICOM, to deliver a keynote address on the command's work, Mr. Oladeinde said.
In the meantime, Mr. Oladeinde said his foundation, which has its Miami office in Brickell, keeps ongoing discussions with the Pentagon.
"There is a lot of work to do and it is going to be very competitive in the final analysis," he said. "But it is very possible, and the effort to make it possible is already in place."