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Cuts could cost area $10 million annually

If Pentagon officials eliminate 198 Air National Guard jobs at Fairchild Air Force Base, the region could lose about $10 million a year, an economist who has studied the topic said Friday.

The $10 million is an estimate of lost payroll from the 198 jobs plus the indirect economic impact on companies and other workers that rely on those guard positions, said Randy Barcus, an Avista Corp. economist.

Barcus was part of a community task force that sought to protect the air base from the latest round of Pentagon-ordered base reductions and realignments announced Friday. He worked on a detailed study that found Fairchild’s net economic impact on the community is around $1 billion annually.

At a meeting after Friday morning’s Pentagon announcement on base closures and realignments, area leaders said they’ll look for ways to bring more jobs back to Fairchild, plus look at how to offset the impact of the 198 jobs slated to be cut.

Spokane Regional Chamber President Rich Hadley said the 198 jobs will only be lost “gradually,” allowing time for a number of options to soften the blow.

“Any time you lose jobs, it’s regrettable,” Hadley said. “But in comparison to the entire $1 billion impact, it’s bearable.”

Most of the 198 Air National Guard jobs – 172 – are classified as “civilian,” involving workers who do aircraft maintenance and repair work at the base. Another 26 jobs to be cut involve full-time Air National guardsmen.

All the cuts would result from the Pentagon moving eight Air National Guard tankers from Spokane to Iowa.

Hadley and other community leaders said one goal, if the tankers are moved, would be to help find new jobs for the maintenance workers.

Hadley believes many of those workers should be able to find good-paying positions in this area.

He said a recent survey found area manufacturing firms currently need to fill 300 skilled jobs. “Many of the job skills they’re now looking for would be the kinds of skills those people working in aircraft maintenance already have,” he said.

Another community option, in light of the probable loss of 198 jobs, would be a recruitment campaign aimed at aerospace firms that could use the skills of the Air National Guard workers, said Jon Eliassen, CEO of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council.

Eliassen said the EDC compiled a list of the kinds of companies in this area that support the aerospace industry as part of an unsuccessful effort this year to persuade EADS, the European consortium that makes Airbus jets, to build a manufacturing plant in Spokane.

That effort can help the EDC launch a campaign to find aerospace companies that might be interested in adding operations in the region, said Eliassen.

A third choice is to tap into an $180,000 fund set aside in the recent legislative session that’s meant to help communities affected by the base-closure process.

While that money can’t be used to save the Air National Guard jobs, it could be used to ensure Fairchild isn’t affected by “shadowing,” said Jeff Selle, the chamber’s public affairs manager. Communities whose bases have been targeted for reductions are allowed, under the Pentagon rules, to point to other bases and “shadow” them as better choices for reductions, said Selle.

The base closure list still must be approved by Congress and the president.

The chamber is likely to seek at least $50,000 from the state money to ensure Fairchild has a strong profile that won’t be hurt as the base-closure process marches toward its conclusion later this year, he said.

Some of the money also would be used to argue that Fairchild needs to have more jobs added as the Air Force realigns missions across the country, Selle said.

“We can justify the use of the state money because it’s there to be used to mitigate any job losses. Our mitigation would be to get more jobs brought to Fairchild,” said Selle.


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