Invitation to Ohio

Jun 2, 2011

A total of twelve hundred new jobs will come to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base because of BRAC – the Base Realignment and Closure. When military personnel are told their jobs are moving they must move too. But civilians working for the Air Force have a choice. And this BRAC has been particularly successful in getting civilians to pack up their homes and relocate their families. Sarah Buckingham reports on a unique effort by Ohioans that made the Miami Valley particularly attractive.

Typically a BRAC will retain 10 to 15% of its civilian workforce. This time, that number doubled. The campaign to encourage civilians to follow their jobs to the Dayton region began back in 2008. Former governor Ted Strickland and then-Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher released this video:

“Facilities are under construction and everything else is in place and we know that the skills of the workforce needed to staff these centers is the most critical element for their success. And we want to put out the welcome mat and invite you to become Ohioans.”

Now the construction is complete, and the Human Performance Wing opened yesterday. People have moved here from Arizona, Florida, and New York – and more are on the way. The bulk of civilians faced with this tough decision came from Brooks City Base in San Antonio, Texas. And they weren’t sold right away.

“Folks call me the Dayton salesman I guess,” says Tom Wells, director of the Human Performance Wing. “I’ve been doing everything I can to encourage them.”

Wells says there is a government job placement program for those who decide to stay in San Antonio. But he couldn’t be happier with how many engineers and scientists accepted the invitation to Ohio.

“A lot of people in San Antonio seem to think this is the frigid north. The weather and the snow probably scared them more than anything,” he says, “and so I showed them beautiful pictures of springtime in Ohio, and fall in Ohio. So yeah, I’m a bit of a marketeer for Dayton I guess.”

“At first? Honestly? Heck no! I didn’t think I’d move up here,” says Elizabeth Escamilla, a molecular biologist. She’s spent most of her life in Texas. And she was one of the researchers Wells worked to persuade.

Escamilla says, “He was honest, he said it’s nothing like San Antonio, so don’t expect San Antonio, but the weather’s great, the opportunities here are vast definitely slower-paced, and you get the four seasons.”

But Escamilla wasn’t convinced yet. Miami Valley officials still had some work to do, so they hit the road. About ninety community representatives – everyone from home builders to university presidents – flew to San Antonio on their own dime. That two-day trip had a major impact on the number of civilians who chose to move. Beavercreek City Council Member Phyllis Howard was there:

“Most of us, we lost our voices by the end of the day,” Howard says, “It was really crowded and it just kept moving and moving, but there was a lot of energy in the room. At first, folks would stop by and tell us they were just OK about moving, and by the end of the day they felt more comfortable with the decision to move.”

Howard shared a table with the City of Fairborn. She showed people maps of the bike path – talked about local schools – and discussed job opportunities for spouses.

“Looking at my children, and as a mother, I wanted to make sure that if I had the opportunity to share my experience of living in Beavercreek, and if that helps them make a huge life decision, I wanted to be there for them.”

Elizabeth Escamilla eventually became a Dayton cheerleader herself. She encouraged her teammates to move – and even helped them shop for real estate. About half joined her in Beavercreek. Others settled down in Centerville and Huber Heights.

According to Escamilla, “We’re all doing the same job, we’re all together, just in a new place. It’s like bringing your family with you.”

For folks in San Antonio, it meant a lot that the Dayton community cared so much.
According to the Dayton Development Coalition – the group that organized the trip – this kind of an effort to roll out the welcome mat is pretty unique.

Michael Gessel, the Dayton Development Coalition’s VP for Federal Programs, says, “The slot moves whether the person moves, so why should we care, because we’re still going to get that job . Well, the answer, why we care, is because it affects the quality of the work, and it effects the mission, and one of our jobs is to support Wright-Patterson and make sure that Wright-Patterson succeeds. A strong WP will continue to hire people and be a source of economic development.”

So far the effort to keep Wright-Patt strong has been successful.