JobsOhio Recruits Dignan for Military, Federal Workforce Initiative

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — James Dignan, former commander of the 910th Airlift Wing at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Monday was named one of three directors working with JobsOhio to retain and develop the military and federal workforce in the state. The announcement was made during a zoom conference conducted by JobsOhio.

Dignan will serve as director of Reserve and National Guard installations for the agency’s newly established military and federal installation sector. The sector represents some 93,000 pre-COVID jobs in Ohio.

The retired Air Force colonel is a principal with AMK Professional Services LLC and former president and CEO with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

Dignan’s role with JobsOhio will focus on the retention of existing roles and missions, he said. These include YARS, Camp James A. Garfield Joint Military Training Center in Ravenna and the Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base, which houses the 179th Airlift Wing. While he will help cover all National Guard and reserve assets in Ohio, he is primarily responsible for the eastern half of the state, he said.

“Ohio is one of those states where, although we have a large military presence, we’ve never had a coordinated state effort to retain or expand our footprint,” he said.

Managing director for the military and federal installation sector is Elaine Bryant, executive vice president for aerospace and defense at Dayton Development Coalition. Bryant is also the sector’s director of Western Ohio.

Jim Free, former deputy associate administrator for technical in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA, will serve as the sector’s director for NASA and space.

The directors and the sector’s advisers – retired Lt. Gen. Tom Owen, Gen. Les Lyles and Gen. Buzz Moseley – as well as retired Col. Joseph Zeis Jr., senior adviser to Gov. Mike DeWine, comprise “a good bench” of Air Force leadership, Bryant said.

“They’ve given us a team of folks that’s really going to make a difference here and be a liaison and relationship builder with all of you in your communities,” she said.

The sector’s mission fulfills the first of DeWine’s “four pillars of aerospace and defense in Ohio,” adds Zeis. The foundational pillar focuses on preserving, protecting, defending and expanding Ohio’s military and federal installations, he said.

There are more than 100 such installations in the state, including NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. With some 93,000 jobs, military and federal installations represent the sixth highest sector in terms of employment.

“If you go around the state, you find incredible military installations,” Zeis said. “Fifty percent of the defense budget goes through Ohio.”

Bryant noted that despite events that have led to economic downturns, such as the Great Recession in 2008 and the current coronavirus pandemic, funding for military and federal installations has remained strong, and even increased.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Greene County just east of Dayton, is the largest single-site employer in the state, according to JobsOhio. This year, its economic impact amounted to $15.4 billion and 30,500 jobs, up from $4.4 billion and 19,000 jobs in 2006.

Additionally, NASA Glenn reports a $1.4 billion economic impact and employs 3,135. The Defense Logistics Agency employs 3,000 in the state, and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Cleveland employs another 2,650, JobsOhio reports.

“The dollars that come into the state of Ohio based on those military and federal missions are more resilient to some of the things that have been impacting us,” Bryant said.

James Dignan

Which is what makes retention efforts so important, Dignan said. One project the statewide focus will immediately benefit is the improvements to the security gate of King Graves Road at the YARS Air Force base, which houses the 910th Airlift Wing. The base still has the same gate it’s had since 1950, “they’ve just strengthened it a little bit.”

Today’s standoff requirements, however, require a serpentine approach so security can see the vehicles coming up the road, as well as a stronger gate and inspection area. The current gate “doesn’t meet any of those stand off requirements from the road,” he said.

“Right now there’s a high level of risk by not having the stand off and security measures that are directed by the Department of Defense,” he said. “This project brings it into compliance.”

The project is underway, but the sector’s leadership can expedite the process by working closely with area entities, including the Western Reserve Port Authority, to acquire the land needed for the gate, he said.

In addition to improved security, maintaining the base’s compliance goes a long way to keeping the base open. In instances where the federal government opts to close some installations across the country, compliance is one of the variables they consider, Dignan said.

“We want to make sure that we’re checking all those blocks to preserve it for the long run,” he said.

Preserving those installations means continued funding for those communities, Bryant said, as well as some impressive operations headquartered in the area. The 179th Airlift Wing in Mansfield, for example, has participated in global humanitarian airlift operations, including Operation Provide Relief/Restore Hope in Somalia, and Operation Provide Promise in Bosnia. The 179th also provided disaster relief in the wake of Hurricanes Hugo, Andrew and Katrina.

YARS has the only aerial spray capability in the Department of Defense, she said, treating more than 2.3 million acres throughout the U.S. to contain certain pet insects. It’s also done work with oil spill cleanup, she said.

It also benefits defense and government contractors in the region, she noted.

Mahoning County is home to 138 defense contractors that were awarded 1,512 defense contracts worth $277,536,573, according to JobsOhio. Trumbull County has 90 contractors with 846 contracts worth $97,553,038, and Richland County has 73 contractors with 1,963 contracts worth $81,974,736.

The Military and Federal Installation Sector also aims to work with the governor’s other three pillars of aerospace and defense: Increasing research portfolios and synergies of Ohio laboratories; work with JobsOhio to aggressively attract mission, industry and jobs to Ohio; and support and expand Ohio’s workforce, Bryant added.

“We want to attract the latest and greatest” in innovations and collaborate with TeamNEO partners to work with companies in the state to develop the next generation of military technology, she said. Doing so can help attract new missions to the state, including attracting the U.S. Space Command headquarters to Ohio, which DeWine backed efforts for in June.

“This is an area where we can and will be successful,” said JP Nauseef, president and CEO of JobsOhio. “Ohio will be recognized for what we already know … it is the best state in the union for military missions, families and veterans.”

Nauseef joined state and federal elected officials from the Youngstown and Mansfield areas, as well as Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel in applauding the creation of the sector. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio; state Sens. Larry Obhof, R-22, Sean O’Brien, D-32, and Michael Rulli, R-33; and state Reps. Michael O’Brien, D-64, and Gil Blair, D-63, praised the bipartisan support for the effort.

Sam Covelli, owner and CEO of Covelli Enterprises and Grand Commodore of the Association of Ohio Commodores, called the new JobsOhio sector “a game changer, as far as I’m concerned,” citing the hundreds of millions of dollars that go from the bases into the communities. He praised JobsOhio for its efforts in working to bring business back safely during the pandemic.

“Everywhere you go in this state, JobsOhio is starting to effect every city,” he said.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.