FAIRBANKS - The return of more than 4,000 soldiers from a yearlong deployment to Iraq has provided a needed boost to the Fairbanks economy.
Statistics compiled by the Fairbanks North Star Borough show a broad range of economic improvement linked to the return of Stryker Brigade Combat Team soldiers. For example:
Housing sales were up 57 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 compared with the same period a year earlier.
Vacancy rates at managed rental properties plummeted to 6.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 from about 20 percent a year earlier.
Incoming and outgoing passenger airline travel increased by 6 percent from Fairbanks during the fourth quarter.
Jim Dodson, the executive director of the Fairbanks Economic Development Corp., said the return of that many soldiers is bound to make a difference. A FEDCO study contends the military delivers $3.8 billion in direct and indirect money throughout the borough.
"Really, what happens is the Strykers leaving depressed the economy, and them returning brought it back to normal," Dodson said.
At Fort Wainwright, the influx of soldiers has created a noticeable hum on post, said Maj. Dave Mattox, a spokesman for U.S. Army Alaska. Not only did the Stryker soldiers return from Iraq, but the Task Force 49 aviation brigade and other redeployments have brought a total of roughly 6,000 soldiers back to post in the last six months.
"It used to be that you could just walk in and get a haircut," Mattox said. "Now there's always two or three guys waiting."
Evidence of the soldiers' return is also seen in alcohol sales, most notably in the first full month after the Stryker team was welcomed back.
Beer purchases in Fairbanks' judicial district more than doubled in October 2009 compared with the same month a year earlier, and liquor sales jumped 122 percent, according to the Alaska Department of Revenue