October 1, 2012

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What Doesn’t Kill You…

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Mission Critical

Hill Air Force Base is a Core Engine in Utah’s Economy

Gaylen Webb

October 1, 2012


Sitting on 6,698 acres approximately 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, Hill Air Force Base is an economic powerhouse that impacts not only Davis and Weber counties, but the entire state. The base directly employs tens of thousands of military and civilian workers, and supportive industries have blossomed alongside the installation, employing countless other workers.

Marshall Wright, director of business development for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), says the business activity related to Hill AFB has made the base the most dominant influence on Davis County’s economy and the central component of Utah’s thriving aerospace and defense industries.

Indeed, the future of Hill looks bright, but it wasn’t always so. In 2005, Utah faced the potential demise of 40,000 to 50,000 jobs and the near annihilation of Utah’s military and defense industry. That was because the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) listed Hill Air Force Base as a potential target in what was then the next round of military base realignment and closure (BRAC) activity.

A study by the University of Utah Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR) put hard numbers to what most people already knew—that shuttering Hill AFB would be a catastrophe for the economies of Weber and Davis counties. As the largest single-site employer in Utah and a magnet for economic growth, Hill AFB accounted for approximately 50,000 direct and indirect jobs, pumped approximately $3.6 billion annually into the Utah economy, created approximately $2.3 billion in personal income annually and put tax revenue of $192 million into state coffers annually, according to the BEBR.

Fortunately, the closure never happened. Thanks largely to the vision and leadership of the Utah delegation in Washington, Utah government and business leaders, and the Utah Defense Alliance (UDA), rather than close Hill AFB the DOD expanded the base’s workload and moved 4,000 more employees there.

Today, Hill AFB is a crown jewel of northern Utah, says Gary Harter, managing director of business creation for GOED. “Hill has been an amazing economic engine through the years and we do our best to work with leaders on base, as well as our partners in academia, to be sure that continues to happen now and in the future,” he explains.

A Vast Beehive
No one knows the intricacies and potential of Hill AFB better than James O. Sutton, who directed plans and programs in Hill’s Ogden Air Logistics Center for 15 years. He was the go-to guy for workload development until his recent retirement.

As one of the Air Force’s fighter depots, Sutton says workers at Hill sustain the most technically sophisticated planes the Air Force flies. And not just the airplanes themselves, but also the components that make up “this very modern, very efficient capability,” he adds. “The F-22, the F-35—even reaching back to modern versions of the F-16—they are the world’s frontline fighters and they come to Utah for maintenance.”

Approximately 23,000 military and civilian workers pass through Hill’s gates daily. The maintenance piece of the Ogden Air Logistics Complex comprises about a third of the workforce function—approximately 8,000 people. The other two-thirds are split among functions like the 388th and 419th fighter wings, which fly F-16s today and may soon fly the F-35s, and the 75th Air Base Wing, which Sutton says is the host organization for the base and does the mayoral physical plant functions to keep the base open. Some of the major work groups at the base include the following:

Program managers
These are the people who make the quarterbacking decisions about different weapons systems and determine the type of engineering that must be done to keep the military systems useful and vital into the future. “These are the folks that keep everything focused. They take the magnifying glass and focus the sun on a specific spot, so that it does what it is supposed to do,” Sutton says.

Maintenance group
This is a workload-intensive activity that has a profound impact on the base, producing $1.7 billion in revenue annually, according to Sutton. “That’s a direct impact on the Utah economy. The money goes right back to the state.”

The maintenance group performs maintenance, repair and overhaul of airplanes for the Air Force’s squadrons of F-16s, F-22s, A-10s and C-130s. Hill AFB workers also maintain and repair the T-38 jets, but that is done in a remote operating location at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

Missile maintenance group
This group does all of the maintenance, repair and overhaul of the nation’s Minute Man III intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as all of the ground support for the missiles. Some of that work is done at Hill, but since the missiles fire out of silos using launch control complexes located in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota, field teams from Hill perform most of the repair and maintenance functions at the remote locations.

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