They resonate across the flat landscape as dull thuds that visitors feel in the soles of their feet. In Camden County that's the sound of explosions deep within a 7,000-acre Academi compound, where each year, 20,000 trainees practice anti-terrorism tactics, bodyguarding executives and heads of state and, in the case of law-enforcement officers, fighting criminals. Those outbursts also reverberate economically.
In 2000, three years after former Navy SEAL Erik Prince formed Blackwater USA, Camden's median household income was $39,493. Today, Blackwater successor Academi, the county's largest private employer with about 315 staff members, has been buoyed by fears of international terrorism and other upheavals and fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars in domestic and foreign government contracts. By 2014, Camden's median income reached $62,194, much of the gain attributable to Academi. The company estimated its annual impact on the region at $425 million in 2015. "They're the biggest [taxpayer] by far," says Lisa Anderson, the county's tax administrator, with $44.7 million in assessed property and an annual tax bill of more than $329,000.
Academi today is a bigger version of the Blackwater that Business North Carolina visited for a cover story in June 2007. After an incident later that year in which Blackwater guards killed 14 Iraqi civilians, the company's reputation took a beating. Four guards were convicted and are serving long prison terms, while the company paid a $7.5 million fine.
It rebranded as Xe Services in 2009, and in 2010, Prince sold it to investors who created Academi. The company changed its corporate name to Constellis Holdings in 2014 and is being acquired in a buyout led by Apollo Global Management for a reported...