Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Protecting Hill Air Force Base — Utah style

Many in Davis and Weber Counties are closely watching the budget drama playing out in Washington, D.C. and the clock ticking down on the automatic spending cuts that could deeply impact Hill Air Force Base.

The base is the sixth-largest employer in the state and the largest single site employer with 22,000 employees, of which 63 percent are civilian employees. The impact to the state’s economy from the base is huge, $3 billion, and obviously that impact is felt mostly in Davis and Weber counties.

As a state, our hands are tied when it comes to the federal funds that support the base. There isn’t much we can do to protect Hill AFB from federal budget cuts except to urge our leaders in Washington to take responsible budget actions. However, together with my legislative colleagues from Weber and Davis counties, we are taking action to make Hill AFB as attractive and viable as possible by making it a center for aerospace technology. We can’t control the federal funds that go directly to the base, but we can enhance the supporting infrastructure surrounding the base that gives it technological synergy and relevance.

Unlike other states, Hill AFB is surrounded by supportive communities and has tremendous state support. One of the important local projects is the Falcon Hill development. Falcon Hill National Aerospace Research Park is the Air Force’s largest enhanced use lease office park project. This project allows the Air Force to take underutilized land and lease it to a developer offering general public accessibility. Over the past six years in support of this development, the state has funded over $18.7 million in transportation and infrastructure upgrades. We are working to appropriate additional funds this year for redevelopment projects at the North Gate.

A significant portion of the Falcon Hill land contains World War II area storage buildings that over time were converted into offices buildings. After 70 years of use the buildings now pose maintenance, energy, parking and safety problems. They needed to be replaced, but because of budget constraints, the Air Force prioritized runways and hangers, not office buildings.

By leasing this underutilized land to a commercial developer, the Air Force receives revenues it can use to construct new or, repair and maintain other aging infrastructure on Hill AFB. Plus, such commercial buildings on federal land are subject to property tax. These buildings house commercial businesses that generate other tax revenues and add to Northern Utah’s economic growth and job opportunities.

Today, Falcon Hill has its first commercial office building housing the ICBM support contractor’s workforce and meets all the latest anti-terrorism force protection standards and design features. This is the first building of a future complex of five government and commercial facilities that brings together the Air Force and its support contractor side by side.

The state and local communities were able to partner and support this project by helping fund the road construction necessary to access the new commercial space. Particularly at the West Gate entrance to the base, the state’s support has been critical. Not only has the base received a new structure that incorporates the latest threat protection features, its new location allowed for transportation improvements to Northern Utah. Early morning backups onto the freeway no longer happen, with the resulting elimination of a serious transportation safety issue.

This development is a model for the rest of the country because it ensures even greater focus of resources in the future. A large component of the activities on the base is in high technology. We can do more than just protect the existing jobs at Hill AFB, we can grow new opportunities around the base that put the future of Hill AFB; and the related jobs in our hands instead of the federal governments. Standard Examiner

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