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HAFB closure would hurt large civilian work force

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Hill Air Force Base has a much higher ratio of civilian to military employees than other bases nationwide, which is good for the local economy, but a negative if the base were to close after the next round of base closings.

The Air Force base and logistics center south of Ogden has dodged the bullet on the previous four rounds of base closings and may not show up on the next list of bases under consideration, expected to be released in the spring of 2005.

In a report to the Wasatch Front Economic Forum at the Alta Club Wednesday, the authors of a study commissioned by the Utah Defense Alliance to examine a worst-case scenario for Utah if the base is closed, said such a closure would be devastating for the Davis County economy and harmful to the state overall.

Jan Crispin-Little, senior analyst, and Pamela S. Perlich, senior research economist, both at the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, reported to the members of the forum they developed their report based on data supplied by Hill officials. However, unlike the round of base closings in 1994, Hill officials were to a degree uncooperative this time, Crispin-Little said.

"It was very difficult to get information this time," she said. "In 1994 they gave us a tour of the base. This time they wouldn't even let us up on the base. The issue is not that they don't want to be helpful, but they are afraid for their careers."

Crispin-Little said she understands Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent a threatening letter to personnel at military bases warning them not to discuss upcoming base closings under the Base Realignment and Closure process. "The base was noncooperative this round because they were given strict instructions not to talk about BRAC."

Rumsfeld and the Pentagon want to close what is rumored to be 25 percent of existing military bases to save money. Rumsfeld has refused to be pinned down on the exact number.

Crispin-Little, who gave Wednesday's presentation, said she doesn't believe Hill will be closed, although she offered no specific reason.

One of the worst things that could happen to Hill, she said, is if the Air Force closes it and then hangs onto the land and doesn't allow private industry to create new jobs on the property. "The military seems predispositioned to shuttering bases and then hanging onto the property."

As an example, she said, Fort Ord was closed by the Army nearly 10 years ago but only 25-30 percent of it has been released to the public sector.

"There are many pluses to having Hill here and they will protect it from possibly being completely shut down, but with a partial shutdown, many good jobs would be lost," Crispin-Little said.

And jobs, particularly the high-paying civilian jobs on the base and those who work for prime contractors at the base, are the major concern for the Utah Defense Alliance and local government officials.

Civilian jobs at Hill pay almost $60,000 per year on average, more than twice as much as the average Utah job, Crispin-Little said. "It would take a long time to replace those jobs."

On average, about 24,000 civilians pass through the Hill AFB gates each day for work. While their numbers are only about 10 percent of the Davis County workforce, their paychecks make up 20 percent of the county's total wages.

Unlike other rural military bases around the country, Hill's large civilian workforce spends its money in their local communities since they don't have base buying privileges.

Hill's military personnel own homes at a rate two to three times higher than personnel stationed at other bases. Some one-third of Hill's military personnel own homes versus 10-15 percent of their counterparts in other parts of the country.

In all, one in 14 homes in Davis County is owned by someone employed at Hill.

If Hill were to close, all the military personnel would leave. Possibly half of the civilian employees would leave the state for other jobs and perhaps the remaining half would retire or take early retirement, Crispin-Little said.

Flooding the real estate market with an additional 6,200 homes of former employees could cause a serious decline in real estate values of up to 25 percent, she said.


E-mail: lweist@desnews.com