Have you ever been curious about the Navy’s gated installation in Saratoga or its secluded, seemingly more secretive base in Ballston Spa? More importantly, have you ever wondered about the opportunity that these bases, hosts to some of the Navy’s best and brightest Sailors, present to your business? Saratoga Business Report sat down with senior Navy officials and the County Chamber of Commerce to learn about the bases, their relationship with our local business community, and the potential they hold to help your business thrive.
BASES ARE ECONOMIC ENGINES
Economists agree that military bases benefit the communities that host them. Stephen Fuller, an economist at George Mason University, explained in a 2019 interview with an NPR affiliate that while service members, veterans, and their families are exempt from sales tax while shopping on-base, their off-base spending “far outweighs tax-free incentives.” Daraius Irani, an economist at Towson University, added that bases “cushion” regions during economic downturns. In the face of rising inflation and the prospect of uncertain financial times ahead, the Navy will execute its mission undeterred; it will continue bringing Sailors and families into our county, who inject money and talent into our local economy.
SAILORS IN SARATOGA
The Navy bases in our region operate under the leadership of commanding officer Commander Raymond Gamicchia and executive officer Lieutenant Tucker Bonow. Gamicchia and Bonow explained that the Navy’s presence in our region extends beyond the recognizable bases in Saratoga and Ballston Spa. The Navy also operates a health clinic in the Spa city (1 West Ave, where West Ave meets Church St), and an Operations Support Center in Schenectady. Between the bases, Gamicchia and Bonow oversee operations that support over 93,000 service members and veterans across three states. Notably, local Sailors also provide Military Honors for veteran funerals at Saratoga National Cemetery.
The Navy’s largest facility in our area is the Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit in Ballston Spa. Hosted on the Kesselring Site, one of two local installations operated by the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, the base boasts one nuclear reactor used to train Sailors to serve aboard aircraft carriers and submarines. The Navy’s smaller base on Washington St supports the Sailors and families assigned to Ballston Spa with administrative, recreational, and managerial functions. Presently, the reactor is offline for refueling, so the bases are staffed by only 3,000 civilian employees, military members, and families. When the Navy places the reactor back in operation and students return to Ballston Spa in late 2023, Gamicchia estimates that their population in our community will balloon to 4,500. Due to the sensitive nature of their mission and the years of intensive nuclear schooling that students complete prior to reporting to Ballston Spa, Gamicchia explained that the Sailors stationed in Saratoga are top-notch. “Mature, vetted, and committed to service, they are among the brightest that our nation has to offer.”
Karen Charbonneau, then-Chairman of the Saratoga Veterans Business Council, speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Field House in 2019. A sign for local business Munter Enterprises, who constructed the building, proudly hangs in the background. Photo courtesy of NSA Saratoga Springs.
INTERACTIONS WITH LOCAL BUSINESSES & OPPORTUNITIES FOR ENTREPRENEURS
Gamicchia and Bonow also detailed how local Sailors and their families interact with our local business community. Aside from the sales, rent, and tax revenue that Sailors generate within our community, Gamicchia highlighted the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation events that host utilize vendors. Bonow added that the Navy has signed a contract with local YMCAs to provide fitness programs and classes to Sailors and families.
When asked about how the local business community could evolve to better meet the needs of Sailors, Gamicchia and Bonow outlined the following areas as ripe with opportunity:
• Housing. Gamicchia stressed how difficult it can be for Sailors to find quality housing close to their places of duty, particularly during track season. For property managers willing to offer preferential pricing options to Sailors and their families, the population of these bases offer several advantages over average renters. While unable to meet peak rental pricing during track season (which prices most military members out of our community) Sailors offer stability unmatched in other renter populations. Sailors are assigned to our area on orders spanning between two and three years, they receive a monthly stipend for rent, and they network. When one Sailor moves out of a rental that suited their needs, they tell their comrades; if they recommend the unit, another Sailor will quickly move in. Offering preferential pricing options to Sailors seeking to rent in our region not only shows support for the military community, it also provides property managers with access to a continuous stream of stable, reliable renters.
• Childcare. The bases in our region unfortunately do not offer any childcare services, which presents a real challenge to our Sailors and their families. According to Gamicchia, the Navy’s Fleet and Family Support Center is working to build relationships with local daycares and family centers; if your business could fill this need, reach out to them at 518-886-0200, ext. 146.
• Talent. Another challenge impacting military families is spouse employment. As Sailors receive orders to move around the country to meet the needs of the Navy, military spouses are often left to abandon their career and begin anew every few years. This population presents a deep pool of diverse, experienced talent that the Navy has brought to our community. Like the pricing of rental units, local businesses willing to offer preferential hiring options to military spouses will not only show their tangible support to the military community, but also benefit from gaining access to this skilled talent.
• On-base Jobs. According to Bonow, the Navy is currently hiring for positions in their Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Department, Commissary, and Exchange. When the student population returns in late 2023, Bonow also anticipates that the Navy will hire several family advocacy counselors from the local population. Interested individuals should visit www.usajobs.gov for more information.
SARATOGA IS A NAVY TOWN
The relationship between the Navy bases and our local community runs deep, according to Denise Romeo of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. Romeo, who repeatedly referred to Saratoga Springs as a “Navy Town” detailed the cooperation between the bases and our community.
Estimating the economic impact of the bases to be $5 million in annual spending at local shops, restaurants, and businesses, Romeo explained that the Chamber takes an active role welcoming Sailors into our community. Each of the last four base commanders has joined the Chamber as an ex officio board member and has been welcomed to address Chamber membership. These addresses present commanders with the opportunity to voice the evolving needs of the bases and steer the relationship in a way that best suits them. The Chamber also works to improve everyday life for Sailors in Saratoga County. From 2016 to 2019, the Saratoga Veterans Business Council, a subsidiary of the Chamber of Commerce, worked with the Navy, New York state government, and Saratoga Springs City Hall to secure a $450,000 grant to fund construction of a new field house on the Saratoga base. Built in 2019 by Munter Enterprises of Middle Grove, the field house serves as a stalwart example of how the Chamber and base command can work together to meet the needs of Sailors and generate opportunities for local businesses. The facility, according to former base commanding officer Commander Phillip Boice, “is a great reminder of how much the community of Saratoga Springs, and the state of New York, appreciates the military.”
When asked if she had any parting comments for local business owners or Sailors housed in these bases, Romeo responded robustly. To business owners, “you need to understand what we owe these bases.” To Sailors, “we are grateful that you are here, we are proud to have you here, and we want to welcome you all in the best way we can.” For their part, Sailors and families seem to be responding well. Commander Gamicchia himself paid the ultimate compliment to our community; after 30 years of Navy service that took him across the globe, his family made the decision to permanently settle in Saratoga “within six months” of arriving here.