By Jim Provance
COLUMBUS — Political, military and community leaders from across Ohio brainstormed Thursday on how to protect the military base jobs they already have, and how to aggressively market themselves for more.
The Ohio Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing, based at Toledo Express Airport, is funded by defense contracts.
“In 2016, Ohio earned over $2.3 billion worth of defense contracts. Now that was the lowest amount in the last decade,” U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) said at the close of the first Ohio Defense Forum on the campus of Ohio State University.
She noted that in 2014 Ohio ranked 19th for defense spending — $7.2 billion, or 1.7 percent, of the nation’s total defense budget. But Ohio is the seventh most populated state.
“Ohio has sacrificed more of our native sons and daughters at the altar of freedom in the last 15 years than 90 percent of the other states in this union,” she said. “How is it that we only ranked 19th in military spending?”“
Many of the representatives of local governments, chambers of commerce, military bases and political leaders who attended are involved in organizations that grew out of the 2005 round of the Base Realignment and Closure commission. The Pentagon used BRAC to rethink the need and location of bases, equipment, and personnel.
That process triggered panic as communities scrambled to keep their installations off the lists for mothballing or downsizing.
The 180th Fighter Wing not only survived the 2005 BRAC, but benefited from it with the addition of aircraft and the aerospace alert mission. It is now among 18 competitors for the new F-35 fighter planes.
Nearly 1,400 jobs are tied to the 180th, about 1,000 of which are guardsmen from across the state who come in once a month. The rest are permanent personnel. The total economic impact is estimated at $123 million a year.
While there is no new BRAC on the horizon, there are always uncertainties with the coming of a new administration in Washington.
“There’s a lot of closures that they can do outside of a BRAC,” said Wendy Gramza, president of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce. “The one thing about a BRAC is it sort of makes it a more transparent process, and at least you understand what’s coming.
“With some of these other things, if you’re not an insider in the Air Force, you might not even know what’s coming until it hits you,” she said.
One of those unknowns is the sequester, the automatic budget cut that occur across a broad swath of discretionary spending that is triggered in the absence of annual budget deals.
Kaptur said military base communities must to do a better job of promoting their “sparklers,” the things that make them stand out.
She and Gramza pointed to the installation of the 10-acre solar panel field at the 180th that provides a third of the base’s power. The field could be expanded to make the base energy independent and feed excess power into the region’s electrical grid
Lima Mayor David Berger knows what it’s like to be on the losing end of defense budget cuts.
“Lima in the mid-1990s lost 8,800 defense-related jobs,” he said. “That cost our communities annually $310 million. When you lose 8,800 good-paying, industrial jobs, it doesn’t feel good.”
Lima is home to the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, the former Army tank plant.
After the event, Kaptur, who serves on a congressional defense funding subcommittee, said she does not expect another formal round of BRAC.
“I think the military, based on the internal studies that they’re doing, is going to be a fluid organization and change as conditions warrant,” she said. “There’s not going to be the Army or Navy of 1947, and the Army has concluded that they have an excess of facilities. We know there are going to be changes.”