The decision by the Air Force not to select Mountain Home AFB as its preferred alternative for the first operational squadrons of the F-35 is clearly disappointing.
Local officials are trying to put a good face on the decision, noting that there are other rounds of basing selections and Mountain Home should do well in those rounds.
In fact, we could get those planes almost as quickly as the bases preferred by the Air Force for the first squadrons. Because of program delays, the first F-35s for the Air Force won't be available until 2015, anyway, and one or two additional basing rounds will probably be held before then. So, at that point, it would be up to how fast the planes can be produced, and we easily could have some of those squadrons here soon after 2015.
But that probably means at least six more years of the base being underutilized. Within the next 60 days, the base will lose another flying squadron, leaving only two USAF flying squadrons at the base (plus the RSAF squadron), down from the heady days of the Composite Wing when there were five flying squadrons there.
The drawdown in forces has stifled local economic growth. Combined with the Great Recession, it's been tough around here, and it won't get better real quick, real soon.
That doesn't mean we should give up -- or simply sit on our hands and wait for the Air Force to save us.
Over the years, the fluctuating fortunes at the airbase have caused this community to try and become less dependent upon the airbase for our economic well-being. That effort has largely been successful and has helped a lot. But now, we need to redouble our efforts at drawing new business and industry -- more jobs -- into the community. That burden has fallen largely on the city's economic development office, the only organized effort to bring new business and industry here. So the pressure's on the new director of that effort, Paula Riggs.
No longer can we sit back and wait for people to contact us. We need to become more proactive in seeking out entrepreneurs, both locally and beyond, willing to invest in jobs in this area. Although it's probably too late in the budget year to do anything about it now, the city (and the county and the Chamber of Commerce in both Mountain Home and Glenns Ferry), need to begin looking at providing extra funding for the economic development effort, to send Paula out to start stirring up interest in our community.
The effort needs direction in terms of what people would like to see, so some method of obtaining that input needs to be put in place. And anyone with any tips about someone looking for a good place to locate a business or industry should call the development office.
Finally, the elected leaders of Mountain Home, Glenns Ferry and Elmore County need to work together to develop reasonable incentive packages (primarily tax and zoning breaks) to help draw more jobs to the area. We're not saying give away the farm, but whatever breaks they can provide should be codified and offered.
It's time to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and begin a serious effort now. It would help us in many ways, not the least of which is that a good job market is attractive to the Air Force in order to provide jobs for spouses.
But we can't let the Air Force be the core of our future. It needs to be the icing on the cake. Waiting six or more years for the Air Force to save us would be little more than a long, slow, lingering death.
Our future is in our own hands. Carpe Diem.