Lacey is known as a supportive community for military personnel and their families, particularly those stationed at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The connection between Lacey and JBLM comes into sharp focus through a recent community needs survey conducted by the military base and the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership, a group of 15 local governments and military agencies formed in 2011 to foster communication and support between JBLM and the cities and counties surrounding it.
The survey revealed that Lacey has the highest number of JBLM active duty personnel living off the base of any South Sound community — 16 percent of the total. The next highest is Tacoma at 13 percent, followed by DuPont and Lakewood, each at 10 percent.
In other words, more than one out of every 10 people who call Lacey home is serving in the military.
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At the time of the survey in late 2011, JBLM was home to about 45,000 active duty personnel, and nearly 72 percent lived off base. The population fluctuates and has dropped some since the survey was conducted. But the need for the military and the nearby communities to keep working together to serve each other hasn’t changed.
One of the big challenges for Lacey is to keep the pressure on the federal government to continue funding transportation projects along the Interstate 5 corridor to keep traffic flowing to and from Lacey and JBLM.
The service members who participated in the survey were asked to rate quality of life indicators. The Lacey-JBLM commute and access to medical care in Lacey appeared as areas that military personnel said could stand improvement.
Lacey drew high marks for its access to fresh, healthful food, good schools and outdoor amenities such as neighborhood and regional parks. And its commercial business sector scored higher than those in DuPont and Lakewood.
Here are some other interesting facts and figures from the survey, which was based on 3,250 respondents:
• About 40 percent of the active duty respondents who live off base own their own home.
• Some 59 percent of the off-base respondents are married and/or have children. Some 85 percent said they were very satisfied or satisfied with the schools in their communities.
• About 27 percent are willing to participate in ride share programs. Another 25 percent were undecided and 48 percent did not want to participate in vanpools or carpools.
Intercity Transit officials have noted that it’s hard to serve JBLM with transit options because the work force is spread all over the military base.
• About 30 percent of the active-duty personnel plan to leave the military within the next five years. Of those, 45 percent of the off-base respondents and 25 percent of the on-base respondents said they’d like to make the South Sound area their civilian home.
This means Lacey and neighboring communities will have both the challenge of creating jobs for former military personnel, and the opportunity to draw from a motivated work force.
As a vehicle for communication and a lobbying arm for federal funding for transportation projects, social services, schools and other projects, the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership has a vital role to play.
It’s encouraging to note that the federal Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment just awarded the partnership a $250,000 grant to fund the group for at least another year.
“Speaking as one voice in tight budgets is always the best thing to do,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said during a recent visit to Lakewood to announce the grant.
The partnership deserves ongoing funding to help the communities cope with a growing military presence and to aid the military in serving their own.