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Base construction keeps Okinawan companies afloat

Date Posted: 2006-02-04

Okinawan construction companies are coming to grips with the reality that American military projects are essential to their staying in business.

Japan’s lagging economy, coupled with implementation of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Trinity Reform Plan which cuts funding to the prefectures, is impacting new construction projects. On Okinawa, however, there’s a flurry of building activity on the military bases. Both Kadena Air Base and Camp Foster are growing and upgrading old buildings for modern facilities, and contractors are happy.

Camp Foster is adding hundreds of new housing units, both multiplex and high rise apartment buildings, as Camp Kuwae (Camp Lester) is turned back to Japanese government control. More than 1,800 families are slated to occupy new housing funded by a budget of Y24,000,000,000, with half moving in by year’s end.

Japanese officials say there is another Y100,000,000,000 earmarked for other military bases construction this year, with Okinawan construction companies getting the work. The Prefecture Construction Companies Group says plainly, “without American bases, our work will never survive. Military bases are our life.” The group spokesman also noted that “since 1950 the prefecture has grown well because of the U.S. bases. The American and Japanese governments are putting up a budget of Y50,000,000,000 every year for new base construction work.”

Some Okinawan companies have been doing base construction projects for 40 years, with more than 150 longtime workers saying they’re doing well. Fears abound, now, with talk of the U.S. forces pulling out. Construction companies are concerned “if the bases are moved to other places we are going to lose our jobs.” The spokesman says “we don’t want to lose the jobs. We need the bases.”

Government reform initiated the past year is also busting construction projects. The Group says the Trinity Reform Program has already accounted for more than Y30,000,000,000 in construction cutbacks this year. It says more than 1,000 workers have been trimmed from company staffs in the past several years.

Construction Companies Group Chairman Yasoji Iha says “We are now almost dying. In reality, we need Futenma Air Station to transfer in order to have jobs.” Iha says “without Futenma staying on Okinawa to create new jobs, we are going to sink.”

The new Nago City mayor, Yoshimune Shimabukuro, is reportedly ready now to discuss a revised plan with Japanese officials for bringing a new airfield to his area. Japan and the U.S. last October announced plans to construct the Futenma replacement airfield, with its 2,000 meter runway, at Camp Schwab. Shimabukuro is reportedly ready to side with construction companies and work through modifications to the plan in order to make it happen.

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