Military bases turning into job centers
State estimates 6,000 private sector jobs have been added
Interest in the bases continues to increase
As California’s economy continues to diversify and expand, a little-known dynamic is emerging: job creation on several of the state’s 19 closed or realigned military institutions.
Through October, an estimated 6,000 private sector jobs have been added to the payrolls of small and mid-sized companies at shuttered bases. And the interest doesn’t appear to be waning.
“Locating on a closed base is proving to be an effective option for a lot of companies,” said Mike Marando, a spokesman for the state’s Trade and Commerce Agency, the state’s lead agency for business attraction and job creation.
Trade and Commerce oversees defense conversion and base reuse activities, which oversees the California Defense Facilities Marketing Association, a 21-member group formed earlier this year to market closed and realigned military bases in California.
The Association is six months into the first year of a three-year marketing blitz designed to attract new, private sector tenants to bases ranging from San Diego to the northern San Francisco Bay Area. The campaign features vertical ad placements in several industry-related publications, which has generated considerable interest.
Ad blitz planned
Approximately 100 leads have come in during the past five months, according to Tom White of the Trade and Commerce Agency. Since the program’s inception in June 1997, advertisements were limited to domestic trade publications such as Industry Week, American Machinist, Upside, and Aviation Week. But in January 1998, the blitz goes global, with ads scheduled to appear in the Asian and International editions of BusinessWeek magazine as well as other markets.
Consider the case of Hiller Aircraft. The helicopter manufacturer had outgrown its Newark facility, so the company began an aggressive search that included sites in California and Arizona. Hiller general manager Steve Shuss found Fort Ord Airfield to be a perfect fit for its operations. In September 1996, the company moved into a 67,000 square-foot facility and today has a payroll of more than 110 employees.
“We looked at several bases in California and Arizona,” Shuss said. “The Fort Ord site fit well with our increased international demand for commercial helicopters and also has infrastructure in place for future growth.”
Testing center jobs
At Mather Airport (formerly Mather AFB) near Sacramento, McGraw-Hill created 600 jobs when it opened a National Testing Center. A favorable lease agreement with the County of Sacramento and available facilities were keys to the deal that allowed Sacramento to house the company’s national statewide college testing capabilities.
Sacramento has drawn the interest of several companies in recent years. Packard Bell NEC took over the Sacramento Army Depot building in 1994, which was the first of several areawide expansion projects. Negotiations are continuing with Emory and Airborne Express for expanded facilities that cold add up to 100 additional jobs at Mather Airport, and the State of California Office of Emergency Services eyes a relocation to a new command center there by the end of 1998.
In Merced, Castle Airport (formerly Castle AFB) is home to Pacific Telesis’ new customer care center which opened last summer creating 500 new jobs and represents a payroll of $20 million annually. The $16 million investment is one of the largest on a closed military base in California.
In Victorville, Southern California International Airport (formerly George AFB) has landed several new expansions. Pemco Aeroplex, Inc., based in Birmingham, Alabama, performs major aircraft maintenance and overhauls and conversions of aircraft for cargo operations. The company signed a two-year lease at SCIA, a move that will create 100 new jobs by early 1998.
World of Leisure Manufacturing Co., has expanded for a second time at SCIA since initially moving to the airport two years ago. Company sales have grown 35 percent in the past year, and is working with SCIA to expand operations an additional 10,000 square feet.
And, California’s $22 billion film and entertainment industry is also utilizing defense plants statewide. Since mid-1996, more than a dozen feature film shoots have occurred on military bases in California. “Sphere,” the $73 million Warner Bros.’. science fiction epic starring Samuel L. Jackson and Sharon Stone, spent nearly a month shooting on Vallejo’s Mare Island Naval Shipyard. And, the current remake of “Flubber,” starring Robin Williams spend several weeks of shooting at Treasure Island and Alameda Naval Air Station, pumping ore than $30 million into the local economy.
Patti Archuletta, Director of the state’s Film Commission, noted that film projects are no longer simply limited to the Los Angeles region. “What we’ve seen is an expansion into not only rural areas but closed military bases that offer outstanding venues for a cross section of film shoots.”
“The message we’re taking around the state is this: Military bases offer a wide latitude for film shoots, sound stages and on-location production,” Archuletta said. “Marketing these bases as venues for film projects makes perfect sense.”
That message couldn’t make more sense at SCIA, which has hosted more than three dozen film and production shoots of everything from major motion pictures to commercials to music videos. “SCIA has a natural 1look’ and scenery,” says Victoria Lee, Marketing Director for the Victor Valley Economic Development Association. Since sound stage space is booked in the LA area, SCIA is a natural venue, given the ease and cooperation of obtaining permits in a timely manner from the City of Victorville. In recent months, box office hits such as “Face/Off” and “Contact” have been filmed at SCIA.