Ohio should push to commercialize technology developed in federal and university labs to create more jobs and strengthen public-private partnerships with military installations to boost their chances of survival if Congress orders another round of base closures.
Those were two of several key recommendations the Ohio Federal-Military Jobs Commission urged Friday in a report released to state legislators.
“This strategy, for the first time in state history, documents a plan to protect and increase federal and military jobs in Ohio and expand commercialization efforts dramatically,” the report said.
The commission called for the creation of a facilities and installations director to oversee efforts to protect and grow jobs at federal installations, spanning Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Springfield Air National Guard Base to the Defense Logistics Agency in Columbus and NASA Glenn Research Center near Columbus.
The effort also covers VA hospitals and clinics and Ohio Air and Army National Guard installations, among other agencies, throughout the state.
Hoping to protect federal sites from the prospect of cuts, state lawmakers earmarked $5 million to shore up infrastructure or other needs of the facilities.
Ohio has to compete with other states
Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute, said in an email, Ohio could do more, as other states do, to gain economic leverage out of what’s already here.
“Ohio should be getting more economic mileage out of its federal facilities,” he said. “Some states such as Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Texas are huge beneficiaries of military bases and research facilities, but Ohio does not get a boost anywhere near as big.
“Although there aren’t many military sites in Ohio, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is the most important site in the Air Force’s base network,” Thompson added. “It is a hub of research and innovation, not to mention the headquarters of the world’s biggest purchaser of aircraft.”
Along with the retention and expansion of federal facilities, the commission of business, academic and retired military leaders urged the creation of an Ohio Research and Tech Transition Innovation Initiative to link university and college research labs more closely with federal labs in Ohio. Wright State Research Applied Corp. will play a key role in linking the initiative together, the document shows.
Other findings of the year-long review recommended the state push to expand federal contracts with small businesses, and the start-up of a placement center to help educate and train job seekers to meet the needs of federal employers, who represent a major workforce in Ohio.
More than 70,000 federal and military jobs, along with an additional 50,000 federal retirees, work and live in the Buckeye State, the report said. All told, that adds up to a $10.7 billion economic impact.
Wright-Patterson, the largest single site employer in Ohio with more than 26,000 employees, plays a major role in the initiative with a strong focus on the Air Force Research Laboratory. Wright-Patt alone has an estimated $4 billion impact in the Miami Valley.
“The legislation (that created the commission) was pretty heavy on facilities and infrastructure and basically trying to create a strategy which will help us prevent any future reductions if there is another (round of base closures) in the future,” said Gary O’Connell, commission chairman and retired chief scientist of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson.
Public-private partnerships are a key focus to attempt to better protect federal installations if a round of base closure and realignment happens again, he said.
State Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, said he anticipated lawmakers will push for the creation of a state official to oversee the effort to protect the facilities.
“It makes a lot of sense,” he said. “I know that Sen. (Chris) Widener and I do not want this to be put on a shelf, it’s too important.” Widener, R-Springfield, backed the creation of the commission and has been a proponent of coming up with a retention-and-grow strategy.
The state set aside $700,000 for the commission’s initiative, and half of that amount was meant to fund the new position, O’Connell said. Thus far, the commission has spent about $225,000, he said Friday.
The strategy was developed last year in a series of meetings across Ohio, including a session at Wright State University in January 2015.
Best practices were looked at from other states to “see if we can replicated it here,” O’Connell said.
Michael Gessel, vice president of federal programs at the Dayton Development Coalition, said in an email the commission compiled “a detailed, thoughtful series of recommendations that are a sound starting point” to protect and grow both public and private sector jobs.
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