We wrap up our series “The New Face of Wright-Patt” looking at the big gains of the recent BRAC decision with a cautious eye toward the future. Gone are many of our manufacturing jobs but the Miami Valley is staying true to its roots of aviation and innovation. Emily McCord looks at how Wright-Patt is writing a new chapter in our history.
At 1700 hours at Wright-Patterson Air Force base, the retreat bugle call is played, signaling the end of the day.
“It used to when we played retreat, people were out there on the golf course. They would ignore it,” says Dave Boyer.
Boyer grew up in the Miami Valley. For as long as he can remember, Wright-Patterson has been a part of his life. He’s a civilian and the chief of the Readiness Branch in 88th Air Base Wing.
“But now I see people stop. They remove their hat. They move toward where they think the flag might be,” says Boyer, “Wright-Patt used to be a hidden gem in the area. Old people referred to it as the field, you worked at the field. But nobody understood what was going on there so much, or there wasn’t the emphasis on it.”
Boyer says that’s changed now. People recognize the base like they used to recognize NCR, General Motors, and other manufacturing industries that made up the Dayton story for years.
Michael Gessel represents the Dayton Development Coalition. He says now when he tells folks about Dayton, it’s a new story with a focus on Wright-Patt.
“The part that we tell is the vibrancy of the Wright-Patt community. The growing science and engineering workforce at Wright-Patt this is every much part of the Dayton story as the decline of manufacturing workforce.”
“Dayton suffered dramatically. When you lose half your manufacturing jobs, that’s a serious hurt-on,” says Richard Stock, an economist at the University of Dayton, “The dominant thing that constantly runs through my head is that we’ve lost half of our manufacturing jobs in the last 10 years. So, while the BRAC won’t make up for that every little bit helps.”
For now, the Miami Valley stands to reap big benefits from all the new things that are coming to Wright-Patt. But undoubtedly, there will be another BRAC, and Gessel says Dayton needs to be prepared.
“There are cycles. The strength of Wright-Patt today may not be the strength of Wright Patt 25 years from now,” says Gessel.
Former Congressman Dave Hobson says no one can predict when the next BRAC will be, or what will come of it.
“It’s going to be hard to maintain as good as we did last time. That’s going to be the challenge. I don’t want to raise expectations. We’re going to have to figure out the lay of the land on this one,” says Hobson.
Figuring that out isn’t easy. For one, it means knowing what the military’s needs will be in the future. And then there’s question of money.
“Well, there are no guarantees with the BRAC. As you might have been seeing in the paper, the federal government has got a real budgetary crisis on his hands right now and trying to save money is a big deal,” says Tom Wells, the director of the Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patt, “There is just so much here. The infrastructure and my 230 million dollar Milcon construction out there brand new I don’t think we’re going walk away from that too soon. I just don’t see Wright-Patt going away in my lifetime.”
Trying to predict the next BRAC is a little like looking into a crystal ball. There are going to be a lot of factors that will go into those decisions. Greene County Commissioner Marilyn Reid feels that the community will have a large role to play.
“As we look forward, no one should ever take for granted that the base is a static thing. This is our family. Wright-Patterson is our family. We’re part of their family,” says Reid.
Today, the ties between Ohioans and Wright-Patterson are stronger than ever. The benefits of the last BRAC have created a new narrative for Dayton. Reid and others in the region hope that, in the future, the needs of the base and the needs of community will continue to align.