Chamber Honorees Reflect Importance of Air Base

BOARDMAN, Ohio – The role of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station plays in the well-being of the Mahoning Valley was the focus of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber Wednesday as it recognized the base commander, Col. James Dignan, and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

At its annual meeting, the chamber honored Dignan, commander of the 910th Airlift Wing, with its William G. Lyden Spirit of the Valley Award and Portman, seeking re-election, with its Chairwoman’s Political Achievement Award.

Also honored was Doug Sweeney, president of Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, with the Donald Cagigas Spirit of the Chamber Award, for his efforts to strengthen the chamber.

The junior senator from Ohio secured $9.4 million to build the new firing range at the Air Force base, Kevin Helmick noted, and praised Portman for “working across party lines to help the region,” for “working for pro-growth, pro-jobs policies.”

Helmick, who presented the three awards, is the president and CEO of Farmers National Banc Corp.

Dignan, completing his third year as commander at the Air Force Base, has “helped drive economic development,” Helmick said, noting how the 910th is “the first small base” to participate in a Pentagon-Community Partnership where members of the military become involved in the betterment of the surrounding communities.

When he assumed command nearly three years ago, Dignan said, the “direct economic impact” of the base in Vienna Township was $200 million a year. “Today it’s $100 million.”

One reason is the Air Force is shrinking as Congress reduces the defense budget, Dignan said. Another is that Congress has transferred some of its assets to other bases.

Regardless, the base in Vienna is the only one in the United States to have an aerial spray mission to combat mosquitoes and unwanted vegetation.

Its C-130 cargo planes “are vintage aircraft now,” Portman said in his remarks. “We want new C-130s” to replace them. Modernizing the planes should be a nonpartisan issue, he said, noting how Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, and Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio have united in their support of the base. He promised to continue his efforts to replace the aging craft with newer models.

“We live in an unsafe world,” Portman declared. “We need modernization. We must keep the Air Force strong. We must get the best equipment to keep the peace.”

He praised Dignan’s efforts to work with Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally by assigning members of the 910th to assist in the eradication of blight by razing vacant and abandoned dilapidated houses on the South Side. Such efforts are part of the Pentagon Community Partnership.

Portman said he too had talked with McNally and supported the Mahoning County Land Bank efforts to reclaim abandoned and unkempt properties. With Brown and Sen. Debbie Stabinow, D-Mich., he is working to secure $97 million for Mahoning County as part of a larger funding measure.

Portman, who was President George W. Bush’s trade representative, reiterated his opposition to the Trans Pacific Pact. He explained the TPP’s disadvantages outweigh the benefits, that it does nothing to penalize counties, such as China, that engage in currency manipulation, and little to discourage other counties from dumping, that is, selling their products in this country for less than it costs to make them.

As for how currency manipulation hurts manufacturers, “The local chamber gets it. The national chamber doesn’t,” Portman said. A nation that rigs its currency by valuing it for less than its real value, Portman said, “is, in effect, raising the tariff” on U.S. exports. “I’m not supporting TPP because of it.”

Applause broke out.

“A level playing field. That all we’re asking for.”

Dignan spoke of the 13 partnerships his unit has established with groups such as Junior Achievement of Mahoning Valley, Inspiring Minds, Youngstown city schools and Youngstown State University and “seven more we’re about to start. … We really want to extend out ties in the Valley.”

The base and YSU have “education for airmen” where those assigned to the base can take classes at the university.

And, depending on the day, Dignan said, the Youngstown Air Reserve Station “has either the second- or third-largest fire department in the Valley” because it has established informal partnerships with municipal and district fire departments to train firefighters.

One aspect of his mission, Dignan said, is to raise awareness of the base and all it does. “The base has been here 60 years,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s here the next 60 years.”

Pictured: U.S. Sen. Rob Portman addresses the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber’s annual meeting.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.