For the Defense

Actus Lend Lease builds its business from the barracks up [From the September/October issue of Nashville Post magazine]

Anyone who has served in the military knows the armed forces are really good at one thing: fighting wars.

Oftentimes, they are not so good at the other stuff.

Procurement is the go-to example of this. There’s an endless supply of stories about the Department of Defense paying $600 for a hammer or $2,000 for a toilet.

But when the military is fighting two wars, putting out countless fires elsewhere and providing help in natural disasters, sometimes the “other stuff” needed to keep a world-class fighting force in tip-top shape gets lost in the shuffle.

The Defense Department is woefully behind in renovations and upgrades to its living quarters. Enlisted barracks and officers quarters alike are well past due for repairs and replacement.

Recognizing this, the DoD has moved to a privatization model. That’s a cringe-worthy word when it comes to the military — images of Blackwater and nameless mercenaries spring to mind — but in the case of housing, it’s a model that works.

Actus Lend Lease, a leader in public-private partnerships with the Pentagon, stands at the forefront of this model. This year, Marc Sierra took over as managing director for Actus’ work with the feds. A West Point grad and Army vet, Sierra has been with Actus for a decade—a decade in which his company has taken full advantage of a new opportunity.

Actus has earned long-term deals with the Army — think 50 years and $5 billion — to develop and operate thousands of lodging units: 7,500 single-family and multi-family units in Hawaii, a similar deal in Kentucky, etc. It’s all part of a plan to privatize 72,000 homes on 27 military installations in the continental United States and Hawaii. That’s 80 percent of the Army’s housing stock.

Since taking over for Dale Connor, Sierra’s biggest coup has been working a partnership with Holiday Inn Express and hotel operator IHG to operate an on-base hotel — used mainly by temporary duty soldiers, such as those on training orders — in Louisiana.

“Opening the doors to the first branded hotel on a military installation is a major milestone for the program,” he says. “It has been a year in the making with a strong collaborative effort between the Department of the Army, Actus Lend Lease and IHG.”

The Private Army Lodging program is just kicking off, but it is the future of base housing.

Defense contracting is often seen as a recession-proof line of work — safe money from an industry that is not likely to disappear.

While the rest of the residential market struggles, Actus has a clear mission and a path to victory.