Senator urges $1B plan to protect Ohio jobs

Former Wright-Patt leader to head Wright State aerospace effort.

Protecting military and federal jobs — and Ohio’s biggest single-site employer — in an era of tighter federal spending won’t be cheap.

On Friday, listeners gathered at Wright State University’s Ervin J. Nutter heard a state lawmaker put a price tag on the endeavor: $1 billion.

That’s how much State Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, proposed that Ohio leaders harness from public and private sources to protect federal jobs, especially in preparation for a new federal BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process, which many in the Dayton region don’t believe can be held off indefinitely.

An effort to protect Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and its more than 26,000 military and civilian jobs will be worth it, Widener said.

A new state panel, the Federal and Military Jobs Commission, would use the money and is expected to create a plan by next April. The nine-member body is expected to name members next month.

“Is $1 billion enough?” Widener said at the “Stronger Region, Stronger Ohio” summit. “I don’t know. But I think it’s a great place to start.”

The state’s most recent two-year budget, passed in 2013, is about $62 billion. Widener identified some state sources of money as Third Frontier Commission funding and JobsOhio liquor sales and other sources. Part of the money might be used for a public-private business incubator and other needs, he said.

In an interview after his prepared remarks, Widener said he is not seeking new state spending of $1 billion.

“The financial tools that we identified that the Federal and Military Jobs Commission could develop over time could leverage and could add up to a billion dollars,” he said. “Both the public and private sectors could use these economic development dollars the state is already planning on using going forward, (and) these are dollars that the private sector will naturally already invest.”

The last BRAC in 2005 yielded about 1,000 new jobs for the base, but regional leaders say they’re taking nothing for granted.

Too often, Ohioans protect regions rather than states, Widener said. He said visitors from Huntsville, Ala. — which has benefited from federal space spending — last fall told him Ohio doesn’t protect its federal jobs.

“They said, ‘If you ever start acting like a state, and working together with all the federal and military assets you have, we’re going to be in trouble,’” the senator said.

Listeners at the Nutter Center also applauded news that former Air Force Col. Cassie Barlow, who retired in May as commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson, has been tapped to be the first full-time executive director of WSU’s Aerospace Professional Development Center.

The center will train workers that aerospace companies need. Dennis Andersh, chief executive of the Wright State Applied Research Corp., acknowledged that the center has been quiet since its 2012 formation.

“What happened is, sequestration hit the defense industry, which is one of the center’s focus areas,” Andersh said.

Under sequestration, aerospace companies and defense contractors weren’t hiring, Andersh said. That’s starting to change, and the center has worked to determine what skills Ohio’s 1,200 aerospace companies need among its approximately 100,000 workers.

“We’re starting to see job growth across the defense industry and the aerospace industry,” Andersh said. “Now is the right time to really get it (the center) better connected and updated.”

“This is a critical time in defense because of all the reductions going on,” Barlow said. “So it’s a critical time to make the connection between defense and academia and help with that pipeline (of new workers) for what’s coming next.”

Barlow is a familiar face to the region, often fielding questions from the media as the base and its contractors weathered a government shutdown and the furlough of civilian workers twice in 2013. In May, Col. John M. Devillier took over from Barlow as commander of the unit considered Wright-Patterson’s landlord.

A House-Senate budget compromise reached in December 2013 and a $1.1 trillion spending bill agreed to a month later eased immediate concerns, but tighter federal spending is still expected.