Wondering why the airport authority’s proposal to move the region’s international airport to a Marine Corps base was fought so vociferously by local defense contractors — and received so lukewarmly by the business community?

Here’s one answer: The military pumps $18.3 billion into the region’s economy annually, according to a study released today by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The defense industry is the region’s second-largest sector. The study says the military employs 148,616 people in San Diego County; $11.7 billion in defense spending supports an additional 145,660 jobs. Combined, that represents 20 percent of all San Diego jobs.

In a news release, chamber president and CEO Ruben Barrales said: “While San Diego’s economy has diversified and we’re no longer known only as a military town, the influence of the U.S. armed forces on our economy remains huge. The Chamber has historically been a staunch supporter of the local military, and this study indicates that support is well-placed.”

But the chamber hasn’t always supported the military. The organization tepidly endorsed the airport authority’s failed Miramar ballot proposal — a proposal the military vehemently opposed.

“Historically, that was the one position that we’ve taken that didn’t fall in line with military support,” said Rachel Laing, a chamber spokeswoman. “But if you look back historically over the years we’ve strongly, strongly supported the military.”

As evidence, Laing pointed to the chamber’s lobbying work during the most recent round of Pentagon base closures, the chamber’s support for the Navy Broadway Complex proposal and its efforts to combat predatory lending near military bases.

ROB DAVIS

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