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Why we must act now to protect air force base’s future

    Whether they do business directly with Scott Air Force Base or not, most Southwestern Illinois businesses understand that our region’s economic vitality is directly linked to Scott. But many are surprised to learn that Scott’s economic impact has actually increased by 40 percent since the last Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process in 2005.
IBJ Apr14 Page 21 Image 0001    Today, Scott’s total annual economic impact is estimated to be over $3.2 billion. With more than 13,000 military personnel and civilian employees and an annual payroll of over $1.3 billion, Scott’s total workforce is actually five times the size of the next largest employer in Madison and St. Clair Counties. This economic force also generates an additional 25,000-plus local jobs.
    But after more than a decade of intensive combat operations, America’s Armed Forces are facing a period of severe budget austerity. While the recently enacted Federal appropriations bill lessened the immediate effects of “sequestration,” Congress continues to force deep defense cuts through the budget process. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs have repeatedly asked for authority to initiate another BRAC process. In addition, a recent report by the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force calls for closing, or “warm basing,” excess installations.
    Across the nation, virtually every community that is home to a military installation is working to protect its defense assets from future cuts that will inevitably be made in many locations. This has resulted in a flurry of activity on the state and local levels, as business and government leaders work to identify areas where innovative and cost-effective public-public, and public-private, partnerships can enhance base operations.
    Here in “Scott Country,” we are very fortunate to enjoy the steadfast and effective bipartisan support of a strong congressional delegation. Just two weeks ago, Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Mark Kirk, and Congressmen Bill Enyart and Rodney Davis hosted a briefing at Scott for the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh. Congressman John Shimkus was unable to participate but has also been strongly supportive. St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern led an impressive presentation by community leaders to express Southwestern Illinois’ commitment to providing the best possible environment for Scott to continue to thrive and grow. Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon underscored the State of Illinois’ own firm dedication to this mission, which is reinforced by strong support from Southwestern Illinois members of the General Assembly.
    Strong state and regional support enabled our region’s pre-2005 BRAC Task Force to do much more than simply play defense. In fact, several additional commands have since been relocated to Scott, which accounts in part for the substantial increase in the base’s economic impact.
    Today, our goal is to replicate that earlier success. Recognizing that Pentagon decisions about missions and deployments during the next few years will affect how Scott and other facilities are ranked when the next realignment and closure process begins, St. Clair and Madison Counties have once again partnered with the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois to form the Scott Air Force Base and Southwestern Illinois Defense Assets Retention and Expansion Task Force.
    Created in mid-2013, the Task Force is already playing a pivotal role in uniting our business communities and local governments in a coordinated effort to strengthen Scott’s position. The Task Force has hit the ground running to design and implement a strategy to maximize opportunities for Scott, and other important area facilities such as the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Granite City.
    Task Force members and our outstanding consulting team that includes former Congressman Jerry Costello and retired General Duncan McNabb have been working with local business leaders and elected officials to design an effective strategic plan with broad-based participation. The Task Force aims to create an ever-more hospitable climate for service members and their families. Helping to achieve greater operating efficiencies at Scott through innovative partnership programs will set the stage for continued mission growth.
    Response to our investment campaign has been both strong and broad-based. With over $1.5 million in pledges, the campaign is approaching fifty percent of its goal.
    In September 2017, Scott Air Force Base will commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the first flight from Scott Field. From that historic beginning, Scott has compiled a proud record in preserving and strengthening our national defense – and also become a unique and vital force in Southwestern Illinois life. We must do everything we can to ensure that Scott continues to prosper and grow. Working together, we will.
    Ellen Krohne is executive director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, a member-based, economic development corporation that unites business, industry, government, education and labor to promote economic growth in our region – and a co-chair of the Task Force.

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