PENDER COUNTY -- A Marine Corps initiative aims to increase the number of Marines nationwide to more than 200,000 by the year 2011. That's going to have quite an impact on our area as towns surrounding North Carolina bases are preparing for the growth. It's estimated in the next three years, Camp Lejeune alone will gain more than eight,000 marines and civilian workers. Jennifer Barnes lives in Sneads Ferry with her husband, a Marine at Camp Lejeune, and their three kids. Barnes said, "It's quiet, it's safe, its proximity to Wilmington for other things to do, kind of step away from the Marine Corps a little bit." No doubt many marine families will share her thoughts in the coming years, and move to the area as part of the Grow the Force campaign. The result is a population boom in Onslow and Pender Counties. "It's a positive thing, change is always hard, but always, it'll be a positive experience I really do think," Barnes said. Allan Libby is the president of the greater topsail area Chamber of Commerce. He equates more people moving to the area, with more money going back to the counties. Libby said, "They have to have banking relationships, they have to establish relationships with professionals, such as doctors, CPAs, sometimes attorneys." Surf City Mayor Zander Guy is also excited about the economic impact on his town. Guy said, "We feel like we have more to offer them here than they do in Onslow County because we're a small community, it's a nice place for children to grow up, you don't have to worry about the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan area." Of course even Libby realizes growth doesn't come without some growing pains. "It'll probably present some infrastructure problems with more people, of course we've got some road concerns right now," Libby said. Even so, Barnes is welcoming the expected growth. "The county just has, again, an opportunity to plan for growth rather than react to growth," she said. Cost of living in these surrounding towns is something to keep in mind. For 2008, Marines at Camp Lejeune receive a housing allotment of anywhere from about $670 to more than $1,400 per month. The Marine Corps wants to hear your feedback about the growth. You can submit comments on a web site devoted to the Grow the Force campaign.
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