Our newspaper’s Path Forward project continues to look for solutions to some of the most pressing issues and problems in our region, such as how to make the local economy stronger and more robust going into the future. Today we share a recent conversation with Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO of the Dayton Development Coalition, which works to protect the base and the jobs associated with it, along with other local development efforts. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. To learn more, visit www.daytonregion.com. — Ron Rollins, community impact editor
Dayton Daily News: Talk about the mission and work of the organization.
Jeff Hoagland: We’re in our 25th year as an organization, and our mission is pretty simple – to create, retain and grow jobs in the Dayton region. The region we serve is the 14 counties of the Dayton metro market – 1.8 million people, all the way up into Auglaize County, over to the Indiana border, all of Clark County and down into the Middletown area, Butler and Warren. For our work with JobsOhio, we’re in 12 counties, as Butler and Warren are part of the Cincinnati development region.
DDN: Since you mentioned it, talk about JobsOhio and how you interact with it.
Hoagland: When Gov. Kasich founded JobsOhio to privatize economic development efforts in the state, six organizations were chosen to work with them on a local level, and the Dayton Development Coalition was identified to be one of those. We run and manage project retention, new projects, and work with new companies like Fuyao for the Dayton region – coordinating between private industry and Columbus. It’s a great partnership; I think it’s one of the best things the state did, to work quickly and with some confidentiality on companies that are considering moving here. I know reporters often don’t like the confidentiality aspect, but it’s allowed us to work with our local economic development partners without missing a beat.
DDN: The transparency aspect, or lack of transparency with JobsOhio, is the main thing that has drawn criticism about it. Talk about that.
Hoagland: The companies we’re dealing with are ready to invest millions in a community, and they want to be able to work and make decisions in a quick and confidential manner. The Coalistion is not a government agency – we’re a non-profit organization, so we aren’t required to turn over emails and documents when reporters ask for them. But from my time working in the public sector, we try to do the right thing and be as open as we can. And then, once information is put out by our public-sector partners, then it’s out. But I think JobsOhio really is very well managed – especially if you think of it as still being a startup just in its eighth year of existence. Actually, a lot of states have looked at the model as to whether they should privatize their economic development efforts, as well.
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DDN: Do you expect Gov. Mike DeWine to make any major changes to it?
Hoagland: I don’t know of any changes, but DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted have said all along they like JobsOhio but hope to make it better. They’re going around the state and listening to what communities are saying about it.
DDN: What would make the state’s economic development efforts better?
Hoagland: Well, one of the biggest issues facing the region, the state and the country is talent and workforce. This has changed in just the last three or four years. Before, site selectors working for a company seeking to move would say to us, show me your land, your buildings, your incentives. Now that’s flipped – now it’s show me your workforce. That’s the first thing they do, is look at the workforce. And the data is out there now, so that there’s a lot of screening being done before companies even come to us. They can quickly determine what markets they want to be in – now, we can refine it a bit and then sell them on the intangibles they may not know about, such as Dayton’s cost of living. We’ll show what kind of home you can buy in Dayton compared to say, D.C. – it’s night and day. We can pitch less traffic, the cost of living, the quality of the area’s schools, the arts scene, outdoor recreation opportunities. When we put those things forward, we can compete even internationally on projects. When people come to Dayton for the first time, they see it as a gem – no pun intended.
Look at the recent announcement that the Shriners are moving their facilities here to Dayton Children’s Hospital. Look at Chewy.com, Tyler Technologies, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center expanding at the base and the F-35 program coming here, other companies moving here, a lot of them bringing new high-tech jobs. Dayton has been slowly turning heads in a bigger way than ever before, and I think we’ll see more as people uncover the greatness we have here. And we’re starting to see the intellectual capital these bring – for instance, the new CEO at CareSource has been bringing in a new management team, and he’s requiring them to live here. They’ve come from San Diego, Chicago, D.C. – I met with them the other day, and they say they love it here for the reasons I mentioned before.
DDN: You mention NASIC and the F-35 program. Is it fair to say the base is your main focus?
Hoagland: One of the main ones. When we went through a strategic planning process with our board a few years ago, we wanted to make sure we were not doing a lot of things just OK, but that we were doing the things we should be doing and were doing them great. Our two main focus areas are the military – Wright-Patterson, the Springfield Air National Guard Base and the VA Medical Center — and aerospace. But a big chunk of what we do is focus on Wright-Patt. When the coalition stood up, our founders decided they should focus on the local economy in general, but most importantly protect Wright-Patterson.
And that asset has grown. If you look at the size of the base at the 2005 BRAC, there were 19,000 jobs “inside the fence.” Then it started to go up – during the 2008-09 crash when Delphi, GM and NCR all left, look what happened at the base – it continued to grow. Missions moved here, and the base got up to 28,500 jobs. Sequestration in 2013 had an impact, yes, but there was also an upside to it – the Defense Department put a lot of restrictions on travel, so we saw more companies coming to Dayton to do business at the base. In FY 2017, the base had 29,500 jobs.
So this is a lot of work by the coalition, the community, our federal delegation – Sen. Sherrod Brown, Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. Mike Turner have been instrumental, along with Speaker John Boehner, who was helpful at the time. And this doesn’t take into account the F-35 program, so I see this number going up in the future. NASIC has grown 100 jobs per year for 15 consecutive years, and they don’t really talk about it. They’re becoming more intentional with their message; they are going to construct a $182 million building for the mission. Brown and Turner kept that project going and made it happen.
We have really critical missions at the base – with Air Force Materiel Command, 40 percent of the Air Force budget runs through that command. Air Force Research Laboratory has a $5.8 billion budget, and half of it’s spent out of Dayton. The Life Cycle Management Center, all the purchasing for the Air Force from uniforms to the F-35, all foreign military sales, are all managed here. And the Air Force Institute of Technology ties a lot of it together through its schooling, research and papers — they all come together to create this amazing intellectual capital of the U.S. Air Force right here in our back yard. We’re so fortunate to have it.
DDN: Do we take the base for granted?
Hoagland: No, but I think there are a lot of people who don’t know a lot about the base. Some of the missions are top secret. Personal story – when I lived in Kettering, a neighbor worked at AFRL, and it wasn’t until I worked at the Coalition and went to a ribbon cutting for one of their supercomputers there that I found out he runs the lab! People just don’t know what goes on at the base because they really often don’t talk about what they do. But that’s OK, because that’s the work our Coalition does – with our partners, and the delegation, we help tell the story so Congress can get that funding we need to help build the missions here.
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DDN: Is the base too big to fail?
Hoagland: I wake up every day putting my work hat on — never taking Wright-Patt for granted, always thinking something is at risk for moving, and always looking to bring more missions here. The day we take it for granted, that’s the day it’s at risk. Too big? No, so many bases are larger, and from a mission standpoint it’s not too big at all – I think we have the capacity to grow, to bring in some of the key missions that are needed to move our country forward.
DDN: Which are?
Hoagland: Hypersonics, directed energy and autonomous systems. Those are the three game-changers where we’re competing with the Russians and the Chinese. You can read up on them easily, they’re all over the internet. The president’s budget has them all in it; they’re critical to the U.S. competing in the world, so a lot of that falls to Air Force Research Laboratory and the Life Cycle Management Center – all the big thinkers, all the money, all the resources that can be spent in Dayton.
DDN: The Coalition is sometimes criticized for paying too much attention to the base, perhaps at the expense of other parts of the area. I presume you hear this – what do you say to it?
Hoagland: I’m glad people say that, because I want them to know we’re watching Wright-Patterson and that we’re vigilant about it 24/7/365. But the other component is that JobsOhio is attracting regionally. Our philosophy is that a business is going to tell us where they want to go — if they want to locate downtown, we’ll work with the city and the Downtown Dayton Partnership to find the best properties and quarterback that process to make it simplest for the company. We continue to get a lof of interest in downtown, but also in the suburbs, too. Kettering, for example, is doing a great job with the business park they’ve created from the old DESC property. There’s a lot of interest up north, too. But as far as downtown, we’re very committed to it — I haven’t forgotten my old poli-sci classes in college, where I learned that a region is only as strong as its core.
DDN: Speaking of college, what’s your history?
Hoagland: I’m from Elyria, Ohio, and went to the University of Dayton. I met my wife, Jennifer, a Cincy girl, there, and we married the year after graduation. I interned at Montgomery County economic development, they hired me and I was there four years. I always tell kids to get an internship if they can, or a co-op. I worked in Kettering about 10 years as a community development administrator, and became assistant city manager there. Then Vandalia had a retiring city manager, and we moved up there in 2005. In 2010 I was hired by the Coalition as executive vice president of operations. In 2011, I was promoted to CEO, and here we are in 2019. It’s been the best job, and I have to thank so many great mentors I’ve had a long the way.
DDN: What do you like best about the job?
Hoagland: I love the diversity of this job. Every hour of my day is different – working with a company of five people, then working with a company like Fuyao, then with the Air Force, and also still getting to work with local, state and federal government. But I’m most proud of the team we have here at the Coalition – a little over 20 people who want to make the Dayton region a better place to live, work and play. They’re so committed to their jobs that my philosophy is provide them the resources, provide the top cover and get out of their way. They’re doing it in the best way I’ve ever seen before.
DDN: Any worries?
Hoagland: I always worry about Wright-Patterson. The economy has me worried. As my stock guy says, it’s coming. We’re going to go through another dip, but Dayton has positioned itself where it’s strong with Wright-Patterson and federal dollars, plus other things – the health care community here is phenomenal, and we’ve diversified the local economy with logistics, bioscience, medical device companies, manufacturing and a lot more. It’s not giants like NCR and GM once were, but we have more diversity now with the size and types of companies here. Will a downturn hurt? Sure, but I think we’ll see a much quicker recovery this time, a lot faster than in the past.