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Fort Lee Will Be Hardest Hit by the Sequester

Many civilian and defense jobs now face furloughs and income cuts.

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The federal government doth giveth and taketh away. The Richmond region is no exception.

Of all the Virginia metropolitan areas, the capital district is far less dependent on federal jobs, which are threatened by mandatory budget cuts designed to eventually trim $1.3 trillion from the budget. Only 2.7 percent of the area's jobs involve the federal government, compared with 6.6 percent of them in Northern Virginia and 7.1 percent in Hampton Roads.

The area most affected locally will be Fort Lee, the Army base in Hopewell, which ironically has enjoyed a huge boost in new jobs during the past few years, creating a small economic boom in the area around Petersburg and Colonial Heights.

But now many of the 5,500 civilian jobs at the Army base or in related U.S. Defense Department work could involve 22 days of forced furloughs, according to base spokesman Stephen Baker. Fort Lee pumps about $2.4 billion into the region's economy, and if civilian income is cut by 20 percent, Baker says, that "would be felt in the surrounding communities where they live."

Fort Lee also is undergoing civilian job freezes, except for critical positions, and is canceling some travel, soldier-tuition assistance and plant modernization. No soldiers are being cut, but it's uncertain if they will be deployed to trouble spots such as Afghanistan.

Richmond isn't dodging the bullet overall. Michael Cassidy, executive director of the Richmond-based Commonwealth Institute, which tracks economic issues, notes that the metro area took such a big jobs hit during the recession that it needs more than 51,000 jobs just to get to pre-recession employment levels.

Of these 19,500 are jobs to replace those lost at employers such as the now-defunct Circuit City, LandAmerica and Qimonda. Another 31,900 are needed to keep up with the needs of the working-age population, Cassidy says. "It's a big gap and [federal budget] sequestration is just piling on," he says.

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