For the third consecutive year, military brass, local business leaders, academics and politicos at the Ohio Defense Forum said the state needs to do a better job advocating for military installations and defense contractors in Ohio.
“If we connect all of us together in the next four years, oh, my goodness, the alignment would be incredible,” said Ohio Business Roundtable Chief Executive Pat Tiberi, a former U.S. representative.
Other states, such as Alabama, are farther ahead in coordinating and promoting its military assets, he said.
“Pulling all of the regional assets, the federal assets, the defense assets together makes us more competitive, strengthens Wright-Patterson (Air Force Base), strengthens all of Ohio and certainly strengthens what we are doing in order to grow jobs,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, who organized the forum.
Ohio is home to more than 110,000 military-related jobs, including more than 27,000 on-base jobs at Wright-Patt, according to a report released in May. WPAFB is the largest military installation in Ohio with more than 100 units inside the fence, a direct payroll of $2.2 billion and an estimated regional economic impact of $4 billion a year.
But there are other military installations across the state: Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Mansfield Air National Guard Base, Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Columbus, NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Springfield Air National Guard Base and others.
Leaders say Ohio needs to coordinate all its efforts now so it is positioned to protect the installations in the event of a BRAC.
“BRAC” — base realignment and closure — is a high-stakes process for Ohio, particularly at Wright-Patt. In the national review of military bases, the state can gain or lose thousands federal jobs. The last BRAC round in 2005 brought more than 1,100 jobs to Wright-Patterson and the addition of the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and the AFRL Sensors Directorate.
Dayton Development Coalition Vice President Michael Gessel, who works full-time in Washington, D.C., said for Ohio to be a national center for military and aviation, the focus needs to be broader than just Wright-Patt. The goal should be to retain existing military missions and attract new ones as well as bring in construction money to keep installations up to date.
“Without new infrastructure, a base is perceived as old and out-dated,” he said.
Lima Mayor David Berger said the next Ohio governor needs to create an office of military affairs that is focused on a coordinated strategy for protecting and building existing assets and JobsOhio should explicitly name the defense industry as one of its priorities.