By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald

Greater Killeen was named a top 10 “medium metro” area for “Military Retirement: Second Careers” Wednesday by Military.com, the Internet’s largest military-oriented independent website.

Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood was ranked against 378 other metro areas as a retirement community for former service members looking for second careers. Criteria included employment opportunities and sectors that align with military skills, overall job climate, quality of life and proximity to a military installation and Veterans Affairs-administered health care facility. The survey was conducted by Sperling’s Best Places, an independent publisher of city rankings.

Killeen, which followed Manchester, N.H., and Anchorage, Alaska, in the medium metro category for populations between 175,000 and 500,000, scored particularly high in employment opportunities for those with military skill sets, emergency services and health care.

Although Military.com has ranked retirement areas previously, this was the first time a survey focused on communities from an employment perspective, said Ward Carroll, website editor and Navy retiree, in a telephone interview.

The survey was commissioned partly because employment is a hot topic on the national stage among military personnel and civilians alike, he said.

“There are 2 million military retirees nationwide, and that’s a pretty large demographic,” said Carroll. “We wanted to make a resource for them as they make this all-important transition.”

Not a surprise

Killeen officials took the ranking as good news but weren’t necessarily surprised.

Jerry Butts, an employment specialist with the Texas Veterans Commission in Killeen, said unemployment here has been lower than the national average for at least the last several years.

The unemployment rate in Killeen was slightly higher than usual in September, at 8.8 percent, versus 8.5 percent in Texas and 9.1 percent nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Retirees and veterans usually can find work in the area, Butts said, particularly if they’re willing to look outside of Fort Hood and in the surrounding cities, such as Temple and Austin.

Retired Col. Bill Parry, executive director of the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, which promotes the sustainability of Fort Hood, said greater Killeen’s military retiree population has grown by 7.3 percent during the last three years.

“We know there are 18,123 military retirees living in Bell, Coryell and Lampasas counties,” said Parry in an email interview. “When (Texas) Comptroller Susan Combs did the economic impact of Fort Hood on the local and state economy, she included military retirement pensions as part of that calculation at $791.5 million annually, and we know there are even more retirees living here now, than in 2008 when she did the assessment.”

Many plan to stay

In addition to their immediate financial impact on the economy, Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce marketing director Jonathan Packer said military retirees — who are often much younger than their civilian counterparts — can be a thriving part of the workforce.

Attracting retirees to Killeen is so important to the chamber that it recently launched a pilot online program, RetireKilleen.com, to educate potential retirees about the area.

Packer said the Killeen-area has particularly strong health care services to offer, in addition to a low cost of living and other intangibles.

“When you’re in the military, you live in places you didn’t grow up in,” he said. “I think (Killeen) has an advantage because they understand the military person. It’s kind of a community full of people who have come from somewhere else.”

According to the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance’s most recent Veterans Inventory Initiative, 41 percent of Fort Hood retirees surveyed said they intended to stay in the area. However, about 30 percent of those who did not intend to stay in the area said they would do so if desirable employment were available.