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Forum: Military vital to Yuma economy
Second only to agriculture, Yuma's military presence is a vital part of the local economy with an estimated annual impact of $1.36 billion.
Both Yuma Proving Ground and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma have a long history in Yuma County, one their commanding officers expect will continue even with the looming defense budget cuts.
“There's going to be some downsizing,” Col. Robert Kuckuk, commanding officer of MCAS, said during a business forum Thursday morning. “There isn't an endless pot of money. We will figure out what to do what the president tells us and with the dollars we receive.”
Col. Reed Young, YPG commanding officer, agreed there will be changes. “Defense dollars are going down, but a lot of very interesting things are going on.”
For example, he said, a huge solar project will be kicking off in the near future at the post. Also, YPG has become a testing hub for unmanned aircraft systems and is vying to be one of six test ranges to integrate them safely into the national airspace.
Young and Kuckuk were guest speakers at Know Yuma Inside & Out, a forum held monthly to provide information and raise awareness on a variety of topics that impact the local economy.
Between them, YPG and MCAS employ thousands of people, both military personnel and civilians. In addition, there's a steady flow of visitors to the two installations — transient military to train, defense contractors to check on projects, high-level military officials and politicians, even international visitors.
Besides the impact of all those people on the local economy, the installations also provide many opportunities for employment and business. Local contractors find work at the installations, and Yuma businesses fill a need for goods and services.
Both installations also are a resource for the thousands of military retirees who end up in Yuma either as permanent residents or winter visitors, providing health care, access to the commissaries and various activities that appeal to those with a military background.
YPG is a busy place, observed Young, logging 2.77 million direct labor hours last year with its primary mission of testing and supporting the development of the “latest, greatest and most fascinating technology.”
It has a payroll of $161 million and $221 million in contract dollars, he said. The base currently has 2,510 personnel: 149 military, 865 civilians and 1,496 contract employees. Many of them have degrees and advanced degrees in engineering and mathematics. It also had 10,000 visitors last year.
Because of its need for high-tech personnel, YPG is heavily involved in education, hoping to interest young students in science careers. And it supports a variety of community activities, Young said.
MCAS is one of the Marine Corps' premier aviation training bases. With access to 2.8 million acres of bombing and aviation training ranges and superb flying weather, each year the air station hosts numerous units and aircraft from U.S. and NATO forces.
It has more than 14,000 people on base, among them 4,427 military, 7,649 family members, 873 civilian workers and 1,299 contact workers, Kuckuk said. Another 15,446 military rotate in and out for training, such as the biennial Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course now going on at the air station.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in construction activity is going on at MCAS — “absolutely a renaissance of the air base,” Kuckuk said. It's partly because aging infrastructure needed upgraded and partly to prepare for the arrival of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
He said he understood there's a jet on the assembly line with “No. 1 to Yuma” written on it. The first plane is expected to arrive at MCAS in November, he added.
Know Yuma Inside & Out is sponsored by the Yuma Sun in partnership with the city of Yuma, Yuma County Chamber of Commerce, Yuma Visitors Bureau and Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp. The next forum will be held at 7 a.m. Oct. 18 in the council chambers of Yuma City Hall. It will focus on the area's winter visitors.
After a break in November and December for the holidays, the series will resume in January with a forum on solar power activity in Yuma County.