MCAS, YPG significant part of local economy
On any given day, an Apache helicopter might buzz across the desert landscape while below, artillery pieces fire at targets 40 miles away, armored vehicles travel road courses, parachutists drop from the air and a new technique for clearing land mines is tested.
That's a sample of the activity going on at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground, a 1,300-square-mile premium testing facility that plays a vital role for the nation's military and that of its allies.
Equally vital to the nation's defense is Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. Home to four Harrier squadrons and a premium training facility for Marine pilots and ground crews, MCAS Yuma is the busiest air station in the Marine Corps and supports 80 percent of its air-to-ground training.
As important as both are to national defense, the two military installations also play a significant role in the local economy.
That the Yuma area is faring better than many other communities during the economic downturn is attributable in large part to the two installations, said Julie Engel, president and CEO of Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp. "We can thank our military."
With approximately 3,000 employees, YPG is the single largest employer of civilians in Yuma County - a high-tech employer - with an annual payroll of about $200 million. In addition, it attracts some 25,000 visitors annually from around the nation and the world.
That impact will become even greater when General Motors' $120 million hot weather vehicle test facility becomes operational. The test facility under construction at YPG will benefit both GM and the military, and attract numerous contractors to the area, Engel said.
MCAS has a total population of 12,500 with an annual payroll of $158 million, according to its 2007 statistical study. And each year it attracts approximately 4,300 transient air crewmen to Yuma.
Between them, the two military installations contribute nearly $800 million to the local economy, according to information provided by GYEDC. YPG's economic impact is figured at $424 million while the impact of MCAS is placed at $334 million.
That's an impact that likely is increasing as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan carry on and the need for testing of equipment and training of people continues.
But the true economic impact of the military in Yuma County is immeasurable, Engel said.
Contractors find work at the installations while local businesses fill a need for services and goods.
Visitors, both active-duty and contractors, to the two installations stay at local hotels, rent cars and eat in restaurants. "Well over 10,000 hotel rooms were occupied by visitors to MCAS and YPG last year," Engel said.
Military stationed here buy homes for their families, they shop at Yuma Palms Regional Center, they eat out and, when a local cause needs volunteer manpower, they answer the call to serve.
Their spouses bring educational degrees and skills of their own to the local work force. "My last three eye doctors were wives of Harrier pilots," Engel said. "They have a positive impact on our economy that's significant ... and hard to calculate."
And when they re-enter the civilian workforce, the former military members are coveted employees, Engel said. They go on to hold key positions in local government, start businesses or join the ranks of Customs, Border Patrol and local law enforcement agencies.
In addition, there are an estimated 2,000 military retires in the community; many more are seasonal visitors and residents.
"These people all contribute to the community," Engel said. "We definitely benefit from the military presence."
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6853.