VIENNA — The $47 million worth of current and future investment at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station has improved the facility and provided the stability to keep one of the Mahoning Valley’s largest employers viable and secure, its commander says.
“We’re trying to find ways for the installation to remain and grow in its relevance,” Col. Joe Janik, YARS commander, said.
While there isn’t talk about closing or realigning military bases, the improvements “make it that much harder to make a case for the Youngstown Air Reserve Station to close,” he said.
The base is the largest employer in Trumbull County and the third-largest in the Mahoning Valley behind Mercy Health-Youngstown and Youngstown State University.
There are 2,043 employees at YARS with 1,440 of them reservists and active duty.
The reservists come from 25 states with 70 percent living within 70 miles of the base, Janik said.
The base is home to the 910th Airlift Wing, the U.S. Department of Defense’s only large-area fixed-wing aerial spray unit. It controls disease-carrying insects, pest insects and undesirable vegetation as well as dispersing oil spills in large bodies of water.
The base’s economic impact on the area last year was $137.3 million, up from $115 million a year prior, according to a report from the 910th Airlift Wing. It was about $90 million 2015.
Of that amount, $103.1 million is annual payroll.
Also included is $17.3 million in local expenditures.
“We have several hotel contracts with community partners around the area” in Niles, Liberty and Austintown, Janik said. “Besides lodging, we use local restaurants, maybe visiting their favorite establishment for a beverage of their choice and spending money in the community.”
YARS also is looking to host several other Air Force reservists as part of their training that “will bring 60 to 80 security forces per class from across the reserve command to Youngstown each month, further stimulating the economy off base,” Janik said.
YARS has become a landing zone for those located at the Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base and is “trying to get more outside entities relying on the air base,” he said.
“We’re all very proud of what we do here and the contributions we make to the local economy,” Janik said. “We’ve been a significant economic stimulator for the area.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, said the $137.3 million number “is an important one. It ripples through the economy.”
YARS has “been a stabilizing force through the economy with all the ups and downs we’ve had,” Ryan said. “No matter what came and went, we needed to keep that base here.”
That includes a number of federal investments.
About $17.1 million in federal funds were spent on lodging at the air base, $9.4 million on an indoor firing range, $12 million on upgrading the spray system and $8.8 million on relocating a new main entrance.
The prototype of the spray system is being tested with the work to be done after the certification of the design of that system, said Senior Master Sgt. Bob Barko Jr., YARS superintendent of public affairs.
The 42-acre purchase for the entrance is being finalized in the next couple of months with a groundbreaking expected at year’s end, Janik said. Construction will take a couple of years.
“We’re adding to the local economic impact through construction work while helping to benefit the future of the base,” he said.
“With tremendous support from our state and federal government officials as well as organizations throughout the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, we continue to make significant progress at YARS,” said Vito Abruzzino, director of the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission.
There could be even bigger news at YARS if it receives new C-130J Super Hercules aircraft.
Ryan wrote legislation, approved by Congress, that specifies that four of the planes approved in the past couple of years must go to an Air Force Reserve station with a special mission.
Besides YARS, the only other base in the country that fits that category is Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“We’ll be ready to support them if we are selected,” Janik said. “After a decision is made, it will be two to three years before they’re fully capable.”
YARS currently has nine C-130H planes that are from 1989 to 1992 with one of the planes not used regularly as part of the inventory, Janik said. It had four other C-130H planes moved to other bases in 2013.
The J-models feature upgraded technology not found on older H-models including improved turboprop engines, propellers and digital avionics as well as having greater range, a higher maximum speed and shorter takeoff and landing distances.
The Air Force will actually allocate eight C-130J planes to one of the two units because a fleet must have eight of the same planes, Janik said.
“Four is a great start for a unit, but the process is a minimum of eight aircraft and C-130Js, and Hs are two completely different weapon systems,” he said. “The decision would either be to approve a new allocation (of four more C-130J planes) or look internally. Theoretically, they can get four more from other bases.”
Barko added: “In all likelihood, they’d replace our H models with Js. A smaller possibility is they’d give us the Js as one squadron and have one squadron of Hs.”
Janik said he’s “very optimistic about the future of the 910th and the base.”
So is Ryan.
“The planes are years down the road,” he said. “It takes a while. You’ve got planes with 30-year lifespans you’ve got to rotate out. It takes time. We have a lot of other opportunities that we’re working on. We’ve got the base heading in the right direction. Everything we’re doing is to keep it. You want to partner with organizations. You want to tie the base and mission down so it can’t be moved.”
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