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Why are we spending all this money to protect Scott AFB?

    Last summer the U.S. House of Representatives spent its last days before the August recess taking yet another vote to repeal Obamacare and pass a farm bill that stripped out food stamps — neither of which had any chance of passing the Senate much less being signed by the President.
Al Ortbals    When asked by Chris Wallace on his Sunday morning show why they didn’t spend their time instead addressing jobs, House majority leader Eric Cantor responded, “Government doesn’t create jobs, the private sector does.”
    That assertion stacks on top of articles published by the Cato Institute, the American Spectator and similar declarations by House Speaker John Boehner, presidential candidate Mitt Romney and many others.
    If that’s true, why do we care what happens to Scott Air Force Base?
    Last October the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois launched a $3.2 million investment campaign, in large part to protect and secure Scott Air Force Base through an anticipated Base Realignment and Closure process. The organization has raised $1.4 million toward that goal already and has hired a dream team of consultants and lobbyists to work on the effort. Something doesn’t make sense.
    Could it be that the assertion, “government doesn’t create jobs,” is incorrect?
    A couple of years ago, the Leadership Council released a report that Scott had a $3 billion per year economic impact on the regional economy and that 136,399 people economically benefitted from the base. How could that be when Scott employs just 13,000 military and civilian personnel?
    As the study explains, the base itself has an annual payroll of $1.3 billion. These dollars go to people who live and shop in our community. They buy homes, rent apartments, buy cars and lawn mowers and go out to eat — all of which generates revenues for area business, taxes for local governments and jobs for everyone from architects to waiters. In fact, the report revealed that there are more than 25,000 indirect jobs that are attributable to the base.
    Although Scott is a government installation, it performs just like a private business would when it comes to its spending in the community. For example, according to the report, SAFB spent more than $200 million in construction alone in FY 2010. Those weren’t military personnel out there engineering and designing those buildings, digging those footings, laying those bricks; it was privately owned engineering, architecture and construction companies with their private employees.
    And that’s just construction. The base also buys services and supplies from a wide variety of vendors scattered across the metro area. According to the report, there are more than 40,000 hotel room nights rented by those traveling to Scott for business. Ask those hotel managers if government creates jobs.
    As Gerry Schuetzenhofer, past president of the Leadership Council and its military affairs committee chairman, said in a statement, “The findings shed renewed light on the value of Scott AFB to the metropolitan area and are cause for celebration,”
    Schuetzenhofer said, “From jobs created and payroll released into the local economy, to the impact the base has on the local housing market and quality of life, it’s clear that Scott AFB has a significant direct positive impact on our entire region. But, as impressive as the $1.6 billion in direct impact is, it’s only part of the story. When we also consider the additional $1.5 billion in indirect impact the base has on the local economy through the goods and services brought by businesses having contracts with Scott AFB and by those businesses’ employees, the total soars past $3 billion. Now, more than ever, we need to work together as a region to make sure that we preserve Scott AFB and keep this powerful economic engine running.”
    I couldn’t have said it better myself.
    Scott is not alone in this regard. Communities across the nation are similarly impacted by their military bases and it’s not just military spending that revs the economic engine.
    A few years ago a faculty group at the SIUE School of Business calculated that the university’s annual economic impact on the region was nearly a half billion dollars.
    Ask the business owners around Edwardsville how important SIUE’s government spending is to their bottom lines.
    What was the economic impact of the nearly 2 million man hours that went into building the Stan Span? And what impact will that bridge have in the future with the land that it’s opened up for private development?
    Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s infrastructure a D-minus grade. We have more than 6,000 bridges in this country that are structurally deficient, water and sewer lines that are failing and highways that need to be rebuilt, yet Congress wastes its time on useless legislation because, “government doesn’t create jobs…”    
    Maybe they need to drop the dogma and look at the facts.
    Alan J. Ortbals is president and publisher of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at or (618) 659-1997.

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