Ohio’s largest single site employer had 27,585 employees in 2012, a drop of more than 2,100 from the prior year, according to Wright-Patterson economic analysis figures released Friday.
The Miami Valley base counted 29,737 employees in 2011, according to figures.
“You can’t experience a drop of (about) 8 percent year after year without having a major economic impact, so it would be nice to know if this was a one-time event or a trend,” said Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.
Thompson said the decline may be tied to the first year of cuts under the Budget Control Act of 2011. The legislation will slash $487 billion out of the Department of Defense’s budget through 2021. Automatic sequestration spending reductions would slash nearly a half-trillion additional dollars during the same period.
Wright-Patterson’s payroll registered more than $2.2 billion in 2012 with an economic impact of more than $4.3 billion, a base analysis concluded. In 2011, the base had more than a $2.4 billion civilian and military payroll and in excess of a $4.6 billion economic impact, a report showed.
The biggest manpower drops were in the number of active-duty airmen, which counted 5,558 Air Force uniformed personnel in 2012 compared to 7,132 the prior year.
The number of civilian employees whose payroll was congressionally appropriated reached 15,254 in 2012 compared to 16,576 in 2011, base numbers showed.
Non-appropriated funded workers, or those whose wages were paid through contracts, sales or other revenues, actually jumped year to year. In 2012, Wright-Patterson had 4,422 compared to 3,775 the prior year. Within that number, the sole rise was in the category of contract employees who totaled 3,447 in 2012 versus 2,760 the prior year.
Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs, said the drop-off in active-duty military service members may reflect Wright-Patterson’s share of an Air Force draw down. But he said he believed the number of civilian employees was flat between the two years. He called into question a report category that showed a drop of about 1,000 intelligence employees at the base in 2012 at a time when employment in the field has stayed level.
“Everything was consistent but that one number,” he said.
Richard Stock, director of the University of Dayton Business Research Group, said a fluctuation in total workforce numbers was not unexpected because of the squeeze on the defense budget.
“I think we can continue to expect to see some further slight declines simply because defense spending is going to be squeezed for the next 10 years,” he said.
He said the region could benefit from a future round of base realignment and closures because “we’re one of the logical places to consolidate to.” Wright-Patterson was a big winner during the 2005 BRAC round when the base gained about 1,200 jobs and the 711th Human Performance Wing, the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and additional research work.
Despite Pentagon pleas, Congress has thus far balked at approving a new round of base closures.
Thomas L. Traynor, a Wright State University economics professor and economics department chairman, said in an email that the reported personnel numbers at the base can vary significantly year to year without major operational changes. “Overall, it is important to understand the total economic impact of (Wright-Patterson) is an estimate that has a margin of error,” he wrote.
The employment level reported in 2012 was a return to the workforce levels of 2009 and 2010, he noted.
Wright-Patterson spokesman Daryl Mayer said early retirement incentives and a hiring freeze on civilian employees may account for the difference between the two years. Some of the unfilled positions may be vacant but not cut, he said.
Mayer could not say for certain why the number of airmen had fluctuated so widely year to year, but he noted the base did not shut down or transfer units during those years. With military personnel regularly transferring to other locales, changes in workforce numbers were not uncommon, he said.
At A Glance
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base released workforce and economic impact numbers Friday for 2012. Here’s a look at major employee category numbers for 2011 and 2012:
Total workforce: 29,737 (2011) 27,585 (2012)
Active duty airmen: 7,132 (2011) 5,558 (2012)
Air Force Reserve: 2,047 (2011) 2,076 (2012)
Civilian employees: 20,351 (2011) 19,676 (2012)
Total economic impact: $4.66 billion (2011) $4.37 billion (2012)
SOURCE: Wright-Patterson economic impact analysis reports for 2011 and 2012