Springfield leaders see an annual trip to the nation’s capital as a chance to push for their most important issues and biggest employers, from drones to more local military missions to cleaning up a hazardous waste dump.
The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce’s Vice President of Economic Development Horton Hobbs said the Dayton Development Coalition’s community leader fly-in that sent 125 people from across the Miami Valley to Washington, D.C. last month “absolutely pays dividends.”
“There’s been no doubt that with our federal installations in our region, speaking with a unified voice helps us prioritize those projects and ultimately results in larger wins for our communities as a whole,” Hobbs said.
In the past four years, the city of Springfield has spent a total of more than $11,700 sending up to two representatives to the event. But Clark County requires its commissioners and staff members to pay their own way if they go and one commissioner said he didn’t believe the Washington trip was necessary.
From the city of Springfield, Assistant City Manager Tom Franzen, City Commissioner Joyce Chilton and City Manager Jim Bodenmiller have all attended. No representatives from the city attended in 2009.
Franzen said the trip has value, including meeting with the staff members of legislators who represent Springfield.
“It’s really just another avenue, another tool we use to advocate on behalf of the city, the residents and the economic development opportunities,” Franzen said.
Clark County leaders didn’t go to on this Washington fly-in from May 19 to 21 because of because of financial concerns, County Commissioner John Detrick said. He said he has built a relationship with the lawmakers’ staff members and didn’t believe the trip was necessary.
“We were doing the same job for our constituents by relating on a daily basis with those individuals,” said Detrick, who hasn’t attended the lobbying effort since 2003.
Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes attended the event in 2011. He wouldn’t estimate how much the trip cost, but said half of it was paid for by the Community Improvement Corp. and the rest came out of pocket. He said the county paid for his plane ticket, which was about $300.
“It was really good, but I just didn’t want to spend the money,” Lohnes said. “I have fairly good access to our elected representatives in D.C. right now. It was great, but I just felt like I could still get my point across, still express issues (without attending).”
This year, the contingent of area leaders included members of the chamber, the city and the Turner Foundation. They asked legislators for help on these four priority issues:
• Supporting the Ohio-Indiana proposal to the Federal Aviation Administration to be designated one of the six sites to test the integration of unmanned aerial systems, which includes using the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport.
• Urging the Air Force Reserve to locate a proposed assault landing strip for the 445th Airlift Wing at the Springfield Air National Guard Base and airport complex.
• Requesting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clean up and remove the hazard waste at the Tremont City Barrel Fill, which threatens the local water supply.
• Asking the Air Force to locate Predator aircraft at the Springfield base.
The priorities mostly revolved around the military installations in the region, which serve as two of the largest employers in Clark County. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is the fourth-largest employer in the county with about 920 workers from Clark County, while the Springfield base is the eighth-largest employer with 900 jobs.
“Typically what you’re advocating are issues you’ve been working on for some time that needs attention with congressmen, something which usually affects the whole region,” Franzen said. “Legislators need to understand it’s not just Springfield you’re advocating for, it’s the entire region.”
The candid discussions with legislators and staff members allow local officials to build rapport.
“If in the future we need something, you’re more likely to get a response if those people know who you are, they’ve met you and spent some time with you and are more willing to talk to you when you pick up the phone,” Franzen said.
He met with Boehner’s representatives to specifically talk about the Tremont City Barrel Fill’s clean-up plan. Franzen handed them a letter expressing concerns about cleanup efforts at the Superfund site.
“We were able to capitalize on our time there and make sure they saw the letters,” Franzen said.
The other benefit, he said, is meeting with other leaders from around the region, all of whom have designs on economic development within the Miami Valley.
“The region has really rallied around and embraced regional strengths,” Franzen said. “They’re not just strengths of Springfield or Troy. They’re regional strengths that we share, and that might be workforce, it might be in transportation networks, telecommunication networks. It’s also defense industry.”
The unmanned aerial systems proposal is key, chamber CEO Mike McDorman said, not just for the military, but also businesses like SelectTech and SAIC in Springfield.
“We’re trying not only to grow those companies, but grow a cluster of companies around them,” McDorman said. “That’s where the jobs will come from.”
At the fly-in, McDorman and Hobbs met with the Turkish and Japanese embassies. As part of the meeting with Japan, they met with representatives from Honda, which employs more than 12,000 Ohioans, including 1,400 from Clark and Champaign counties.
The company also spends $5.8 billion on parts from Ohio suppliers. That includes local companies such as KTH, YAMADA North America and TruTec, which together employ about 1,200 people.
“For us, as we seek to grow that supply base here, it was important for us to meet with them and thank them for their investment in Ohio,” McDorman said.
Chilton attended the fly-in for the first time this year, meeting with representatives from the French and Israeli embassies and discussing their economic development strategies.
She also had a chance to talk with other regional leaders.
“It was great to talk with other commissioners and mayors and talk about some of the same problems we have, and some of the results they’re getting by trying different things,” she said.
Springfield’s regional role has grown, McDorman said, as local representatives have participated in the fly-ins.
“We’re a much bigger voice than we were in the region seven years ago,” he said.
Springfield News-Sun city reporter Michael Cooper is committed to providing in-depth coverage on issues affecting Springfield, including the cleanup of the Tremont City Barrel Fill.