Virginia community braces for impact of defense cuts

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Published February 22, 2013

| FoxNews.com

Hampton Roads, like so many communities in Virginia, has an economy that centers around the military -- in their case, the Navy.

And with eight days left for Congress to act to halt looming budget cuts known as the sequester, residents are increasingly worried that Naval Station Norfolk -- the lifeblood of the community -- will be hard hit.

Tom Taylor, who runs MF&B Marine Warehouse in Hampton Roads, is already watching contracts with the Navy dry up at his small ship-repair business.

"It's not like turning on a spigot. You don't turn it on and turn it off," Taylor said in an interview with Fox News. "These (contracts) are months or years in the planning stage, so if they are canceled, you know, they don't come right back. ... So that's pretty alarming."

Like many small business owners in Virginia, Taylor will be directly impacted by the freeze in defense spending. Seventeen percent of the sequester defense cuts will come from Virginia's Hampton Roads area. Estimates show that the entire state, factoring in major defense contractors in Northern Virginia, could lose as many as 200,000 jobs.  

Most of the nation's naval fleet is maintained from ports in Norfolk and San Diego. The Pentagon has already canceled the deployment of the carrier fleet USS Harry S. Truman to the Persian Gulf citing fiscal constraints. Pentagon officials say ship maintenance is one of the first items on the chopping block come March 1, the day the sequester takes effect.  

Taylor says that every day Congress stalls puts added stress on him and his community.

"It does keep you up at night," Taylor said. "When you have a small business, it's more of a personal nature. People become your friends. You know them, you've been with them through ups and downs, birth of children, weddings, graduations -- whatever it may be. And it's not like a big company, when they lay people off they have an outside firm do it, or the HR department does it. ... I have to look these people in the eye."

Meanwhile, on Wednesday the Pentagon also announced that by late April it will have to furlough more than half of its 800,000 civilian employee staff.  

And on Thursday the deputy defense secretary warned that by the end of the year "two-thirds of all Army units will not be ready to fight other wars."

Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott told a community forum in Hampton Roads that he wants Congress to cancel the sequester. "Our nation is facing a serious, self-inflicted crisis that could cost our economy millions of jobs across the nation, and hundreds of thousands of jobs here in Virginia, if sequestration takes effect on March 1st."  Until then, Scott said, "we have total confusion, and no one knows exactly what's going to happen."

Randy Windley, who owns Doumar's diner near the naval station, says everyone in the area is at risk. "I think it's going to have a trickle-down effect," Windley said. "We're a small business and the military is so tied to this area that it's going to hurt the economy and the surrounding cities."

Steve Jackson, a local resident and truck driver, spoke to Fox News after the community forum with Scott and said he's frustrated by the whole process. "I want to know, when am I ... getting laid off in March, or in April. And I think that's what a lot of people want to know, and the answer to that, tonight, is -- we don't know from the higher ups."

"A lot of people on the outside of the military and the government will lose their jobs all the businesses around here will be affected restaurants, car lots, grocery stores -- everyone's going to be affected by this," said Phil Swain, a retired Pentagon civilian employee who lives the Hampton Roads area with his wife Jeanee, also a retired DoD civilian.

"I think we're all worried about it," Jeanne said.  "The military supports us either indirectly or directly.  It affects all the businesses, the real estate, our tax base -- it's our lifeline."

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