Why the Army decided to put its new, high-tech Futures Command in Texas
When Army officials announced Friday why they decided to put the Army’s new, high-tech Futures Command in Austin, Tex., they left out many of the details.
The Lone Star State’s capital of nearly 1 million people was selected from a nation-wide list of 150 cities. The service chose Austin after cutting the list of contenders to five finalists — Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Raleigh, N.C., were the others — and a contingent led by Army Under Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy met with state and local officials in each.
Army officials say the creation of Futures Command marks the largest reorganization of its headquarters in 45 years, when it realigned after the Vietnam War and created both Training and Doctrine Command and Forces Command. The organization will be led by a four-star general, and tasked with overseeing the planning and purchasing of everything from futuristic helicopters to direct-energy weapons that the Pentagon believes can someday be used in missile defense.
McCarthy said that Austin scored the highest among all finalists on the basis of several criteria, including proximity to people with expertise in math and science, provide-sector innovation, academic institutions with a history of research and development. The Army also assessed the cities for quality of life and cost of living, and examined what sort of civic support was available.
But Army officials declined Friday to detail what sweeteners state and local officials offered to lure the service to Austin. They could include access to land the Army can use, or tax incentives for private businesses with which the Army might work.
“Incentives were offered by the state of Texas,” McCarthy said. “We’re working with them on the implementation details right now, and I’m not really in a position to release that information. We will shortly.”
By Friday evening, part of the explanation became more clear. The University of Texas system’s board of regents voted to provide the Army with space in its high-rise building in downtown Austin. Gov. Greg Abbott (R.) and Army officials appeared at the Austin Chamber of Commerce and praised the university system for getting involved.
“Today’s announcement brings ground-breaking research in the area of national defense to our state capital, and I look forward to the military’s advancements in protecting our nation being made possible by the great minds in the UT System of higher education,” Abbott said.
Army officials declined Friday morning to detail how much it factored in the cost of living in the cities for its people. But the differences are significant. In Austin, for example, the current median home value is $346,800, and median rent is $1,678, according to real estate service Zillow. In Boston, it’s $583,400 and $2,750, respectively. Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Raleigh all have cheaper median home values than Austin.
McCarthy said the presence of so-called “incubator hubs” factored prominently in the Army’s decision. The locations typically cater to startup companies, offering shared work spaces and overhead to allow startups to collaborate and save money. Austin has several, including the Austin Technology Incubator run by the University of Texas-Austin. Some Futures Command officials will be based in the hubs, he said.
Austin also is near other U.S. military installations, including Fort Hood to the north and Joint Base San Antonio to the southwest. Fort Hood, a sprawling base that is home to more than 45,000 U.S. soldiers, would seemingly be particularly helpful if Futures Command leaders want to use training ranges to test prototypes. Raleigh is a relatively short distance to the Army’s Fort Bragg, but the other cities do not have any Army bases nearby of similar size.
The decision, however, means the Army will be reliant in a new way on the U.S. South. The service has a large constellation of bases in the 10 states there, and recruits nearly half of its soldiers from the region, according to an independent study prepared for the Pentagon. U.S. military officials have discussed the need to broaden their geographic diversity in the future, but Army Secretary Mark T. Esper said it was important to pick Futures Command’s home “devoid of those other considerations.”
“We didn’t go into this saying, ‘Well, we need something up here in that part of the country, or this part of the country,’ ” Esper said. “What we tried to do is find the best place for the Army, for the mission and for our people.”