The military supports roughly 540,000 jobs in North Carolina, but its presence may shrink over the next few years. That's according to a report the N.C. Commerce Department released Tuesday.
The report is billed as the most comprehensive breakdown of the military's impact in North Carolina the Commerce Department has released since 2008.
That impact is massive. North Carolina has the third-largest military population in the country. Businesses in 82 of the state's 100 counties won defense department contracts last year. And roughly 340,000 private sector jobs are tied to the military, including attorneys, accountants and realtors.
But the military's footprint in North Carolina could start shrinking. The report projects more than 60,000 active duty members in the state will leave the military over the next three years. That's because the U.S. is ending its war in Afghanistan and cutting its defense budget.
"It's a big concern," said state Commerce Department spokesman Josh Ellis. "It's very clearly a huge part of our economy, and so what we're working to do is, how can we connect folks that are leaving the military with employers who want those skills?"
Ellis said Governor Pat McCrory has set up a military affairs commission to help with that.
The veterans will add to a labor pool that's already packed with North Carolinians struggling to find work. The state has the sixth-highest unemployment rate in the country.