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The Cost of Growth: Businesses

By Peter Biello


Wilmington, NC – The Marine Corps is building its force by 27,000 Marines over the next three years. More than 11,000 of them are coming to the Camp Lejeune area. While the new Marines are expected to spend money off base, the Marines and their family members already here are giving a needed boost to the local economy.

At Pro-Kutz Barber Shop across the street from Camp Lejeune, shop owner Shantelle Carroll gives a civilian man a short haircut. She says when the Marine Corps announced its growth plans in October of last year, she became very excited. Five months later, she bought this barber shop.

"I wanted this shop to be different than other shops. I wanted to really cater to the Marines. We give them their tenth haircut for free."

Carroll says the math works in her favor. There are more than 40,000 Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune. Most of them need a haircut about once a week. For Carroll, the growth of the Marine Corps means 25 percent more work. She says it seems like her customer base increases by the week.

"I started off with one barber, and I had to hire another one, until I got up to twelve, and I still have people waiting, and they don't stop cutting."

At seven dollars a haircut, the Marine Corps growth would add about $4 million to the $13 million already spent a year in area barbershops.

"You wouldn't believe the amount of money a barber can bring in in this town. It's unfu-, it's really, it's unreal, what they can bring in."

Carroll says here in Jacksonville a barber can take home a thousand dollars a week. She makes at least sixty-thousand dollars a year. Jim Reichardt is the executive director of the Jacksonville Onslow Economic Development Office. He says barber shops are one of many businesses cashing in on the Marines.

"While much of the nation has been suffering with the tightening of the banks and the real estate market plunge, many of our businesses are still doing extremely well."

According to the Jacksonville Onslow Economic Development Office, the Marines spend more than $3 billion in the area each year. Reichardt says retail outlets, car dealerships and restaurants do well as a result of that spending, and as the Marines spend more money, existing businesses will expand and new businesses will move in. He projects the Marine expansion could create an estimated 7,100 jobs in this community.

"We also have projected an average wage of about $35,000, which is ten percent above the current average county wage.

But local government coffers won't increase as rapidly as personal bank accounts. That's because Onslow County voters rejected a quarter cent increase in sales tax. Raising money for infrastructure the Marines will need is now up to Onslow County's property owners. Reichardt says the defeated sales tax would've been better for the county.

"Because you get people other than just the population, you get people that are coming in to spend the money, and being a retail center, that does broaden it and would consequently lessen the load on every individual."

The Onslow County tax base will grow as more people buy houses and start paying property taxes. Jacksonville City Manager Kristoff Bauer says that will take awhile, because the credit market hasn't loosened up yet. Buyers are having trouble getting loans and some builders can't find enough credit to finish their projects.

"The development community has to pay for water and sewer pipes and streets and the grating and all those things. They have to build their own infrastructure inside their own development. And it takes them 18-24 months before they can sell house one."

County Commissioner Lionell Midgett says the Marine Corps makes Onslow County resilient during economic slowdowns so resilient that not even the recent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan could hurt area businesses.

"Didn't have any positive impacts, either," he says, "but they've pretty much held their own until they came back."

Midgett explains, the Marines may be gone, but their family members are still in town. And that's good news for barber shop owner Shantelle Carroll, who says she knows exactly what she'll do when the Marine Corps finishes its growth plans in 2011.

"I'll have to hire more barbers. If it ends like that, and like I think it's going to be, you'll see a houseful of barbers. And they'll make well more than what they're making now."

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please e-mail us, we'd like to hear from you. news@whqr.org.