Thursday, June 30, 2005
Getting Caught Prepared: Saving the Base
1981 was a challenging year for Duluth. It marked the closing of the Duluth Air Base and heralded the end of Duluth’s frantic, last minute “Save the Airbase” campaign. Sadly, the decision to close the base was irreversible. Our community’s belated attempt to save the base was ineffectual primarily because the campaign came long after both the initial decision to close the base was reached in 1976 and the concurrent public announcement was made.
The time between that 1976 announcement and the departure of the final base personnel in 1981 was a dispiriting time for Duluth. Unemployment reached a record high of 15% when civilian jobs that supported the base were lost (I graduated from college in 1978 and can personally testify that for any college graduate, prospects for employment in Duluth were indeed bleak).
Fast forward to 2005.
Personnel in Duluth’s Minnesota Air National Guard 148th Fighter Wing recently learned that the Air Force had recommended the retirement of the 148th’s airplanes – the F-16s – by 2007. Losing the F-16s would result in the elimination of 583 of the 148th’s 1,100 jobs.
Fortunately, this time our community was ready to successfully challenge the Air Force’s decision-makers. The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce had been leading a four- year-long effort to prepare a comprehensive defense against such a proposed closure of the 148th. Now, that defense would be tested.
We traveled to Washington, DC and appealed to our elected officials to join us in our “Save the Base” initiative. Representatives in Washington responded with enthusiasm and action. Last week, the Chamber’s leadership also went to Grand Forks, North Dakota to challenge the Department of Defense decision-makers, who had recommended the removal of the 148th’s airplanes. They, too, listened to our appeal.
Duluth’s “Save the Base” initiative was rewarded when Governor Pawlenty recently received official assurance from Pentagon officials that a new mission will be given to the 148th that will involve an equal, or greater, number of Air National Guard members. The F-16s will not be retired until another plane is reassigned to Duluth’s 148th.
This is great news for our community. The 148th generates an economic impact of $85 million each year. The base supports over 100 local and regional venders who supply contracted and direct services and products to the base.
The Chamber is proud of its unwavering support for the 148th. That support contributed to the collective, positive voice that was heard in Washington DC, as well as within the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and in the Department of Defense.
This time we were ready – and our preparation paid off.
posted by David Ross