Blackwater in Iraq means a swirl of controversy over private security forces guarding American diplomats – a job that in the past was done by uniformed U.S. military personnel.

But there's a kind of a Blackwater phenomenon on the home front as well – the increasingly common practice of laying off all possible non-essential military-related functions on the private sector. Increasingly, in the case of military bases, this has a huge impact on planning because the Pentagon is now assuming that many basic needs of military personnel and their family will be provided by military base communities, not on the bases themselves.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of the domestic Blackwater phenomenon is in housing. Remember when everybody lived on base? Today, the Pentagon's assumption is that 70% of military personnel and their families will live off-base in adjacent communities. Similarly, a whole variety of support services required to keep bases going – which in decades past would have been done by military personnel – are now being farmed out to local contractors.

That's a huge impact – or a huge opportunity – depending on how you look at it. Last week, the Pentagon's Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) put on a "growth summit" for communities around the country where the military is increasing its operations. Here in California, most communities affected by military bases have had to deal with shrinkage, not growth, as CP&DR readers have discovered over the years. (See, for example, our recent article on the City of Concord's attempt to block the Navy's transfer of a 5,200-acre closed base to a Virginia defense contractor.

Yet the impact of increased privatization is likely to be similar whether the base is growing or shrinking. And at the OEA conference, I was struck by how familiar the issues are at military base communities in other parts of the county.

Take, for example, Fort Drum, a major Army training base near where I grew up in Upstate New York. Although the surrounding region, anchored by the City of Watertown, is chronically depressed, Fort Drum is growing like mad. And even in low-cost Upstate New York, developers can't bring new housing onto the market at a price the military families can afford. The new houses typically cost around $220,000 . But low-paid military families can typically afford only $120,000 to $150,000.

The solution? It's familiar if you're from California. A nonprofit entity that takes control of some land and uses every possible public funding source to create "affordable housing" for military families. 

The flip side of the whole military base story is that, with the Pentagon's assistance, rapidly growing military bases are taking a page from their shrinking or closed counterparts when it comes to economic development. Virtually every one of the 20 or so growing base communities has created regional economic development entities – not unlike the ones created in California as a result of the base closures – trying to figure out how to identify and exploit economic "assets".

So, these are the issues that we see in base communities: Affordable housing and economic development – not to mention workforce training (for military dependents) and open space (to create buffers around the bases). They're pretty familiar. The irony is that planning for military bases – whether expanding or shrinking – is not a whole lot different than planning for growth or expansion in any other community. And there are plenty of models in both military and non-military communities to draw from.

- Bill Fulton