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Businesses around Wright-Patt preparing for ‘trickle-down disaster’

Across Fairborn and Riverside, business owners and city officials are watching the sequestration situation closely, wondering how many Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employees would be furloughed and what the local impact would be.

“It makes me very nervous,” said Tony Spaziani, owner of Giovanni’s Restaurant e Ristoranti Italiano, a Fairborn mainstay for 60 years. “This is trickle-down disaster.”

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could furlough up to 13,000 civilian employees for 22 days beginning in April. Those civilian employees could be notified by mid-March, a Pentagon official said Wednesday.

The base has not determined whether the days would be consecutive or one day a week through the end of the fiscal year. The unpaid time off work is expected to be equivalent to a 20 percent pay reduction between April and September.

Wright-Patt is the state’s largest single-site employer with more than 29,700 military and civilian employees and a $4.7 billion annual economic impact, according to a recent report.

Spaziani said that downtown businesses are still trying to recover from the re-routing of Ohio 444. The news that thousands of employees could see their salaries cut by a fifth is even more worrisome, he said.

“This is the most nervousness that I have felt,” said Spaziani, who has owned the restaurant since 1994. He said regular customers who work at the base have been telling him they plan to brown-bag it more often.

Chris Wimsatt, Fairborn’s economic development director, said the news “certainly isn’t good for the momentum that we’re building.” But the impact will be felt beyond the city limits, he said.

“It’s really a regional issue,” Wimsatt said. “The thing with our military base, it’s a very large and well-integrated regional facility. It doesn’t hurt one community. It hurts a lot of communities.”

Paul Newman, executive director of the Fairborn Area Chamber of Commerce, said the impact to the city’s businesses will come down to priorities — whether base employees decide to pack their lunch or still eat their meals at area restaurants.

“It’s a difficult thing to evaluate what exactly they’re going to do,” Newman said. “We’re still cautiously optimistic it’s not going to have a severe impact to us in the city.”

Riverside City Manager Bryan Chodkowski said the city projects to lose $60,000 in income tax revenue this year if the furloughs happen, but that number could change depending on which employees are impacted.

Earlier this month, Riverside finance director Thomas Garrett said the city received $27,300 in December 2012 from base employees who live in Riverside. That figure is what the city receives on average per month, he said.

“Without a doubt, it’s going to have an impact, especially on those types of local businesses that rely on people spending discretionary money,” Chodkowski said. “Retail, restaurants — they’re going to feel that.”

At Tickets Pub & Eatery, just down Main Street from Giovanni’s, Wright-Patterson employees make up 75 percent of the lunch crowd, according to owner John Zavakos.

“It’s very huge,” Zavakos said. “I think everybody in Fairborn would tell you the same thing.”

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