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State leaders want to address Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s potential ‘workforce crisis’

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (United States Air Force/Released)

A “potential workforce crisis” at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has led state and military leaders to call for action in the next year.

The “Workforce We Need Summit” is being planned for the spring of 2020 and comes after the Dayton Daily News reported that nearly half of personnel at Wright-Patt are near retirement age. It will include state, local, military and college leaders.

The potential retirements mean the base could face a “potentially crippling workforce shortage in the coming years,” according to Dayton Development Coalition officials, who are planning the 2020 summit in partnership with Wright-Patt and JobsOhio, the state’s private nonprofit economic development agency.

“Through a strong partnership between the U.S. Air Force and Ohio’s colleges and universities, we will ensure federal installations have the workforce needed to continue this amazing legacy far into the future,” said J.P. Nauseef, president and chief investment officer of JobsOhio.

Around 50 percent of people who work at Wright-Patt are within “the autumn and winter of their careers,” Col. Tom Sherman, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing said during a defense conference in Columbus last week. That amounts to around 15,000 of the base’s 30,000 employees.

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At the Air Force Research Laboratory alone, around 36 percent of employees are already eligible to retire, said Jessica Salyers, deputy executive director of AFRL.

After the base’s workforce issues were revealed during the Ohio Defense Forum, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted suggested that local leaders team up with colleges to address problem. JobsOhio, the DDC, and Wright-Patt leaders said they heard Husted’s comment as a call to action and began planning the summit.

“I look forward to teaming with Lt. Gov. Husted, local community leaders, and my mission partners on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on the Workforce We Need Summit in the spring of 2020,” Lt. Gen. Robert McMurry, commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center said in a prepared statement.

Better connecting colleges to the jobs that will become available at the base has been floated as a way to close the gap on workforce needs at the base.

The value of a summit like the one being planned for next year is that it “helps pull everyone together,” said Cassie Barlow, president of the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education and former commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patt.

“It’s really exciting and I think from a SOCHE perspective our universities are going to be really excited about participating in the summit,” Barlow said.

Wright-Patt, the largest single-site employer in Ohio, has an estimated economic impact of $15.5 billion.

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Wright-Patt’s potential workforce shortage comes just months after the base topped 30,000 employees for the first time in around 30 years.

Before 1989, Wright-Patt hadn’t employed more than 30,000 since 1964. It marks just the 10th time Wright-Patt has employed more than 30,000 in 101 years, base data shows.

Wright-Patt is expected to add around 5,000 more jobs over the next five or six years, Sherman said last week. The base is also already set to receive more than 400 new jobs as the Air Force relocates its F-35 Hybrid Product Support Integrator Organization there.

“Our goal is to continue to bring new missions to Wright-Patt, the Springfield Air National Guard Base, and other federal installations across the state,” said Jeff Hoagland, DDC president and CEO. “Ohio must show we can meet the military’s workforce needs in order to attract new programs such as the F-35 Hybrid Product Support Integrator (HPSI) Organization.”

The chief threats to future Ohio prosperity are demographic and workforce trends that are headed in the wrong direction, Ohio’s lieutenant governor declared Tuesday at an annual breakfast meeting devoted to exploring government affairs.

“In the last 10 years, Ohio has created 330,000 net jobs, and the size of our available workforce has shrunk by 190,000 people due to demographic changes, largely,” Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and Dayton Development Coalition-sponsored event.

“Workforce is the biggest threat, not just to Wright-Patterson (Air Force Base), but to many businesses’ growth plans,” he added.

Relatively low workforce participation rates — a national issue, not just a state problem — have played a role, Husted said.

The state and cities like Dayton need to encourage migration to Ohio and then inspire people to stay, he said.

“Wright-Patterson — there is no close second in the region for what it means economically,” Husted said. “Every resource and effort needs to be marshalled to make sure it stays strong.”

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© 2019 the Dayton Daily News