Air Base Plays Crucial Role in Valley Economy

VIENNA, Ohio — One of the Valley’s largest employers and economic stabilizers often goes unnoticed by residents — at least until a military aircraft flies overhead.

“I grew up seeing the C130s fly overhead and had no idea where they were coming from until I came and did my interview here 16 years ago,” Youngstown Reserve Air Station’s command information chief Eric White says. “It’s been one of my main missions in life ever since to make sure that when you look up and see those C130s, you know exactly where they’re coming from.”

The Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber Lunch and Learn series, produced in partnership with the Youngstown Foundation, focused on the Valley’s military economy during its 11th session Wednesday afternoon.

The Youngstown Air Reserve Station is the largest employer in Trumbull County with 1,933 individuals, and it’s the third largest in the Mahoning Valley. The station generates just over $78 million in payroll and boasts an estimated economic impact of $150.6 million annually.

“It’s a big deal to our valley,” says Dave Christner, board chair of Eastern Military Affairs Commission. “Over the years, we’ve lost some of the other industry here. This is kind of the stabilizing factor until we can get the Lordstown Motors, the Ultium batteries, and America Makes, those kind of things. So as we ramp them up, we want to keep this as a stable baseline.”

Despite being a main source of economic stimulation, few people know there’s a military base in the Youngstown area, Christner says.

He says that while Youngstown is technically a military community, there isn’t enough support for its military base compared to other areas.

“The Mahoning Valley really doesn’t have that instinct to really support this base,” Christner says. “We need to get out there and preach to people that there is an air base here and here’s the importance of it and the economic impact of it.”

Christner says other, more prominent military communities will “fight” for their military, ensuring that local bases keep their funding. He hopes that residents will rally around YARS, especially when it comes time for a Base Realignment and Closure from the Department of Defense.

BRAC is a congressionally authorized process DOD has used to reorganize its base structure to “more efficiently and effectively support our forces, increase operational readiness and facilitate new ways of doing business,” according to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition’s website. Three U.S. Air Force bases have closed since BRAC was established in 1974: Newark Air Force Base in Heath, Rickenbacker Air National Guard in Lockbourne and the U.S. DOD Defense Electronics Supply Center in Dayton.

“I think we need to have that kind of fight mentality here. When that kind of thing [BRAC] happens, we need to have the community step up and fight for that,” Christner says. “But in order for them to fight they need to understand the background and why it’s important.”

Fourteen hundred of the nearly 2,000 employed at the air base are in the Air Force Reserves, says 910th Airlift Wing Commander Col. Jeff Van Dootingh. “They live in your cities and communities; they might be your neighbors, your teachers, your firefighters, you name it,” Van Dootingh says.

Approximately 400 are full-time employees and the remaining are civilians. While some reservists come from as far as Hawaii to train at the base, most call the Mahoning Valley home. Van Dootingh says that both locals and non-locals are contributing to the local economy by eating at local restaurants, filling up on gas and staying in hotels when in town.

Hotel stays contribute a surprising amount of money to the air base and the airport, according to Western Reserve Port Authority Executive Director Anthony Trevena. The Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport houses the air station and is still considered a commercial airport despite not having any current commercial airlines using the runway. Trevena says between $1.5 and $1.8 million in bed tax supports the station each year,

“If there’s not a 910th Airlift Wing, that money goes way,” Trevena says. “The fact that we have a commercial airport is a result of our military presence here.”

The 910th Airlift Wing, stationed at the base, mainly provides tactical airlift, meaning it provides “beans and bullets” and other needed supplies to deployed troops, says Van Dootingh.

The rear of the C130 can become a medical facility on the front lines, and troops can receive life-saving medical care while in flight. The station exclusively does aerial sprays for oil spills, disease control and vegetation control.

From left: 910th Airlift Wing Commander Col. Jeff Van Dootingh, board chair of Eastern Military Affairs Commission Dave Christner and Western Reserve Port Authority Executive Director Anthony Trevena discuss the role the YARS plays in the Valley economy.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.