Port Authority Gets Update from Military Commission

VIENNA TOWNSHP, Ohio – Members of the Western Reserve Port Authority received an update Wednesday from representatives of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station and the local commission established to help preserve the airbase and other local military assets.

At its monthly meeting, the port authority’s board of directors heard from Air Force Col. James Dignan, commander of the 910th Airlift Wing stationed at YARS; John Rossi, president of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber Foundation; and Vito Abruzzino, head of the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission.

In March, the port authority approved annual contributions of $25,000 to the Chamber Foundation to support the commission.

The commission is “vital” to the Mahoning Valley, Dignan said.

“When I got here, I realized our base wasn’t involved in the Valley as it should have been and vice versa,” he remarked. In Seattle, where he was stationed previously, a local business group “looked after the health and well being of the military, and it’s huge there, billions of dollars” in the greater metropolitan area, he said.

“There was nobody looking out that had a vision of the economic impact, the long-term viability and the sustainability of the military assets that are here,” he continued. He eventually approached Rossi and suggested it as a function of the chamber.

At one point, the base had 16 aircraft and had a direct economic impact on the Valley of about $200 million annually. “Now we’re at eight airplanes with about $97 million of economic impact. That’s huge and that happened unbeknownst to the business community by and large herein the Valley,” he said. “How did that happen? Because we didn’t have this kind of advocacy.”

Abruzzino, an attorney who served with U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, says he sees the commission’s mission as twofold.

One mission is getting to discuss the continued viability of local military assets, their investment in the community and other issues. “One of the most difficult things is getting people into the room to sit down and talk about these issues. Everybody’s busy, everybody’s got stuff to do,” he said.

The other “critically important” mission is ensuring continuity of message. “As most of you in this room know, we have been very blessed with having Col. Dignan over the last several years. He’s really taken a grab of the community and really taken ahold of the mission and trying to say, ‘YARS is here and we’re going to continue to support the community and be involved,’ ”Abruzzino said.

“There’s no guarantee that’s going to happen with the next commander we get here,” he continued. That continuity of message needs to be there and that’s something the Military Affairs Commission is going to be making sure absolutely happens.”

Commanders sign a contract of up to three years for an assignment, Dignan said. He reaches his three-year point Feb. 21 and has asked to remain through summer, he said.

Topics the commission will cover through its agenda in 2016 include C-130 upgrades, base realignment and closure status, improving the demographics a BRAC commission would eventually look at, adjacent land issues and encroachment, and continued partnerships with the local community though blight removal, emergency response training and other activities, Abruzzino said.

One of the initiatives the commission is pursuing is to secure funds to purchase the former air cargo building at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, Dignan said. “We’ve got support at all levels. Now we’ve just got to tie it all together to buy that port authority property for the cargo facility on the other side,” he remarked. “I want to see ‘Air Force Reserve’ painted on that building hopefully before 2016’s out, hopefully shorter than that.”

The main use would be for an embarkation/debarkation terminal for personnel and equipment, said Dan Dickten, director of aviation at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

“We couldn’t get air cargo in there. We tried. It’s just not in the cards, at least at this point,” he said. “We’re trying to get it back into aeronautical use, which this does.” In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross are interested in storing equipment and supplies there, he said.

State funds are being sought to purchase the building for YARS. “It’s basically the community that’s buying the building from us,” Dickten said. The port authority is seeking $1.26 million for the building, he said.

The commission has established four working groups focusing on military value, Ohio support, community support partnership and veterans and personnel, Rossi said.

The community support program’s efforts include the blight removal effort in Youngstown, which has torn down about 80 vacant houses in the city and hung 800 street signs.

“This particular program has actually served as a model,” Rossi said. At out-of-town conferences, representatives partners including Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. have been told the initiative has “really set a benchmark with this program,” Rossi said.

“We’re happy about that and we’re looking forward to continuing that work, moving up into Trumbull County and addressing some of the blight issues around the downtown area and gateway cleanups into our cities are also on the agenda,” he added.

Dickten also told the board members that the 14-day comment period had ended for the show cause order recommending issuance of a certificate of public service that will allow Aerodynamics Inc. to provide flights between Chicago O’Hare International Airport and the regional airport. The U.S. Department of Transportation has six days as of yesterday to respond.

According to Mickey Bowman, ADI’s vice president of airline services, an objection filed claiming the airline had defaulted on a $400,000 loan “does not appear to present a challenge at this point,” Dickten reported.

“Hopefully next week we’ll have some good news,” he said.

The board also voted to hire Farris Marketing, Youngstown, for $20,000 to perform various marketing functions for its economic development division for a three-month period. Those include designing a new website, exploring potential rebranding programs, producing marketing materials and training, said Anthony Trevena, economic development director.

The vote followed a PowerPoint presentation by George Farris, the firm’s CEO of Farris, about what his firm does. The presentation was punctuated with images from the Star Wars franchise, including a picture of Darth Vader at its start and finish and a marketing executive wearing a storm trooper helmet.

“I’m just trying to do my part to help Disney recover their $4 billion investment in Star Wars,” Farris joked. The Walt Disney Co. purchased Lucasfilm Ltd., producer of the Star Wars movies, in 2012.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.