Guilford County Commissioner Pat Tillman knows a thing or two about the military and national defense. He joined the Marines within weeks after graduating from Appalachian State University and he has said that serving his country – both in peacetime and in armed conflict – has been one of the greatest privileges he’s ever known.

Tillman still takes part in military activities – and once he even came straight from a National Guard training event to a county commissioners meeting wearing his uniform.

Now, he’s bringing an idea to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners that could mean a whole new slant on economic development in the area. His plan is for Guilford County to work closely with DANC – the Defense Alliance of North Carolina – to bring more Department of Defense and military-related jobs to Guilford County.

Tillman said the county is ripe for this kind of business and it’s a possible avenue of economic development that hasn’t yet been tapped to a sufficient degree.

DANC is a private, nonprofit organization that has a stated mission of “strengthening North Carolina’s defense sector.”

“The board has retired officers – Marines and those from all branches of the military – and their mission is to attract and retain Department of Defense jobs,” Tillman said. “I’m trying to make sure that Guilford County is front and center in this effort and is top of mind when these opportunities come available.”

Tillman added that, when people think of defense sector jobs, they may think of things like building or servicing planes – and he pointed out that some military work of that type is going on at Piedmont Triad International Airport.

But he said there’s also a whole lot of Department of Defense work that involves things like record keeping, office work, logistics, manufacturing and other types of work.

“These aren’t conventional Department of Defense jobs, like building ships,” Tillman said.

To offer one example, he said, the county and the state have a lot of unused textile capacity that could be put to use making military uniforms or accessories.

He argues that there’s a wealth of military-adjacent jobs the county and the state could support and a good reason for the county and state to be awarded the work.

“With all of the retired veterans we have here, we could be at the top of the list for this kind of work,” Tillman said.

Tillman is currently working with county officials and DANC to see what opportunities may benefit Guilford County.

The Defense Alliance of North Carolina attempts to bring together military officers and industry executives in support of the state’s economy. DANC was created in 2019 when the Boards of the North Carolina Military Foundation and the North Carolina Defense Business Association merged.