Dayton region helping Ohio ‘lead the nation into the aerospace age’

Work at Wright-Patterson, Springfield Air National Guard Base touted at annual defense and aerospace forum.

The Dayton region will play an important part in the future of defense and aerospace in Ohio and beyond, defense and government leaders said.

Kicking off the virtual Ohio Defense and Aerospace Forum, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday the state is, “leading the nation into the aerospace age of the 21st century."

Much of that future will be driven from the Dayton area, where Wright-Patterson is the state’s largest single-site employer, with 30,000 military and civilian employees — with the expectation that by the year 2023, there will be 34,600 employees there, said U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton.

Combined, Wright-Patterson, the Springfield Air National Guard Base and the Dayton VA Center have a $17 billion economic impact in the Dayton area, Turner said.

Steady employment center

Col. Patrick Miller, installation commander at Wright-Patterson, said that as painful as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, the base and the Air Force have learned key that should position both well for the future.

Knowing that a large workforce can work remotely and productively should help the base make smart facility decisions in the future, Miller said.

“We were able to keep employed that 30,000-plus workforce through that virtual environment," Miller said

Many “legacy workers” are used to working at their desks and take comfort from that, but allowing workers to work from home will be part of the base’s future recruitment startegies, he said.

“I think as we compete for talent moving forward that ‘office’ has to transition,” Miller said.

Part of that future includes dominance in the air and new forays into space. Dayton-region advocates have nominated the area and Wright-Patterson to permanently host the headquarters of U.S. Space Command, a location decision the Pentagon is expected to make next year.

“I think the nation would benefit by locating the command headquarters here in Ohio,” DeWine said, referring to the state’s unanimous endorsement of moving the headquarters to Wright-Patterson.

“We really speak with one voice,” said Joe Zeis, DeWine’s senior advisor on aerospace and defense matters.

Zeis called Ohio “the aerospace R&D capital of the nation,” noting that according to a recent PwC measurement, Ohio is No. 2 in aerospace attractiveness across the 50 states.

JobsOhio, by its reckoning, counts some 550 private aerospace companies with 37,000 aerospace employees across the state.

ExploreOhio ranks second in aerospace investment: Report

Much of the state’s defense industry is centered around and to the east of Dayton, particularly in Greene County.

Firms in 10 Ohio counties received 89% of the $5.33 billion in federal defense procurement contracts in fiscal year 2018, according to state numbers. Those 10 counties are grouped into four clusters of contiguous counties, with Greene leading all counties with $1.34 billion or 25.2% of Ohio’s total share of those crucial contracts in 2018.

Firms in Montgomery, Butler and Franklin counties received contracts totaling between $490 million and $560 million, or 9.2 to 10.4%, according to Ohio data.

Overall, the military and federal employment sector employs 93,000 Ohioans at some 30 installations, according to JobsOhio.

Engine of innovation

The Air Force Research Lab, based here at Wright-Patterson, awards nearly $800 million a year in “small business innovative research” contracts, to small businesses across the nation, AFRL Commander Brig Gen. Heather Pringle said at the forum.

And the lab is working all the time to ensure that doing business with the Air Force is less difficult for smaller companies, she emphasized.

“If you tried to partner with us in the past and it was perhaps a bit of a challenge, I want to ask you to try again, because we have new front doors,” Pringle said.

Notable private Dayton-area defense firms include GE Aviation’s Unison plant in Beavercreek and UTC Aerospace in Troy. Ohio is the No. 1 supplier state to Boeing.

Explore‘Air taxis’ bring new business to Dayton-Springfield region

“Nothing could be more exciting than building the future,” Pringle said.

Part of that future will include “flying cars” — flying vehicles that producers say require no runways and no airports.

AFRL’s effort to capture and harness development of such vehicles is paying dividends for the Dayton area already, with a pair of companies, BETA Technologies and Joby Aviation, either testing here or beginning to establish a local presence.

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Joseph E. Zeis, Jr., of Centerville is aerospace and defense advisor to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Joseph E. Zeis, Jr., of Centerville is aerospace and defense advisor to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.

Col. Kimberly Fitzgerald assumed duties as commander of the 178th Wing from Col. Gregg Hesterman Sunday at the Springfield Air National Guard Base. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO / SENIOR AIRMAN AMBER MULLEN
Col. Kimberly Fitzgerald assumed duties as commander of the 178th Wing from Col. Gregg Hesterman Sunday at the Springfield Air National Guard Base. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO / SENIOR AIRMAN AMBER MULLEN

Col. Patrick Miller is the 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Col. Patrick Miller is the 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo)

What they’re saying about Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Springfield Air National Guard Base.

Col. Patrick Miller, 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander at Wright-Patterson:

“We saw tremendous growth in telework. … We were able to keep employed that 30,000-plus workforce through that virtual environment.”

Col Kimberly Fitzgerald, 178th Wing commander, Springfield Air National Guard Base.

“We are postured to help with the fight against our near-peer adversaries." “We have connections, computers and brain power, basically.”

Joe Zeis, senior advisor on aerospace and defense for Ohio. Gov. Mike DeWine

Ohio is “the aerospace R&D capital of the nation.”

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