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Barbara Rivera Holmes

It may have been hyperbole when U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., opened the door to his wood-paneled Senate board room – the space adorned with memorabilia from communities throughout Georgia and sepia-toned photographs of the state’s early senators – surveyed the audience and proclaimed, happily, “Looks like you’ve brought all of Dougherty County to Washington with you.”

The senator wasn’t far off. The 25-person local leadership team that visited the nation’s capital June 18-20 to meet with the Albany Area Congressional delegation and Marine Corps brass was the largest to date in the 15-year history of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce’s Washington, D.C., Fly In, an annual advocacy initiative that allows for chamber and community leadership to discuss priorities with members of the Albany Area Congressional delegation.

Local leadership was targeted in its discussions with Perdue: U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany; and U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton. On the table: Disaster recovery funding and disbursement; Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany and its contributions to national defense as an innovative logistics command instillation; the importance of transportation infrastructure as Albany continues to experience population growth; rural health care delivery and affordability, and opportunities to close the skills gap through specialized training. Related policy briefings at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce helped identify national resources and themes.

The Georgia Congressional delegation’s advocacy of the $19.1 billion disaster aid bill, which President Trump signed in early June, will release federal dollars that assist local communities and military installations.

Many of the issues addressed with the Congressional members were identified as priorities, too, during the local team’s discussions at the Pentagon, where Lt. Gen. Charles Chiarotti, deputy commandant for Marine Corps Installations and Logistics, discussed the U.S. Department of Defense’s new National Defense Strategy and the critical role of Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany and Marine Corps Logistics Command.

Be it energy security – by 2020, MCLB Albany should become the first net-zero energy installation within the defense department, in part due to an energy-creating partnership with Dougherty County – to how the health and status of Albany’s infrastructure affects the Corps’ readiness, Albany and the Marine Corps share parallel priorities, and the symbiotic dependence of these has never been more pronounced.

“The Marine Corps Logistics Command serves as a distribution hub for the Marine Corps, and future fights may start from bases like our installation in Albany,” said Brig. Gen. David Maxwell, assistant deputy commandant for Marine Corps Installations and Logistics.

The readiness capabilities of Albany-Dougherty County and the Albany area impact the readiness of the Marine Corps. This was on display during the recovery and rebuilding following the tornadoes of January 2017 and Hurricane Michael in 2018, which temporarily debilitated the Albany area’s energy, transportation and water management infrastructure.

When Chiarotti, an affable three-star general, directed the conversation toward the work force readiness and the skill sets that would be needed by the Marines to meet this new national defense paradigm, the community’s public educational partners – the Dougherty County School System, Commodore Conyers College and Career Academy, Albany State University and Albany Technical College – were in the room ready to listen and, most importantly, ready to act.

For more than a decade, the country has been engaged in ground combat warfare in parts of the Middle East. The new National Defense Strategy addresses growing cyberterrorism threats from near-peer competitors including China and Russia. The new strategy requires new and different infrastructure, and a specialized work force.

The size of the local audience wasn’t lost on Perdue, a businessman from Warner Robins, nor was its diversity: the private-sector small and large businesses; education; elected officials; economic development partners; local financial institutions; health care, military partners.

U.S. Rep. Bishop, the longest-serving of the Albany Area Congressional delegation, noted that while the community has consistently engaged with leadership in Washington, the size, scope and impact of local leadership has expanded significantly. This, I note, has not been without intention.

The Albany Area Chamber exists as a force for progress. Since 1910, the Chamber has coalesced the assets, resources and talents of its members and strategic partners so as to collaboratively achieve transformational change. More than a century after its incorporation, the vision of a stronger, healthier and more prosperous Albany area – and the advocacy of the policies, programs and resources required – remains our driving force.

Bárbara Rivera Holmes is president and CEO of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce. For more information, call (229) 434-8700.

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