Tuesday, January 15, 2013

County to look at diversifying Solano economy

January 15, 2013         

FAIRFIELD — Solano County has a chance to study creating a more diverse economy that depends less on defense expenditures at Travis Air Force Base.

A $369,000 federal grant is available for the study. The county Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday whether to accept the money. It looks to be an easy decision – the item will appear on the board’s consent calendar, which is reserved for items likely to be noncontroversial and require no discussion.

Supervisors meet at 9 a.m. at the county Government Center, 675 Texas St.

At a glance

  • Who: Solano County Board of Supervisors
  • What: Accept grant to study how to diversify the economy
  • When: 9 a.m. Tuesday
  • Where: Solano County Government Center, 675 Texas St.
  • Info: 784-6100
Solano County doesn’t want to contemplate a less vigorous Travis Air Force Base, much less a base closure. Rather, it wants to study further building an economy that has Travis Air Force Base and a whole lot more.

“It grows the economy around the base so that the base is a smaller piece of the pie, so it is not having an undue influence on the economy, even though it will always be a significant aspect,” county spokesman Steve Pierce said.

At the same time, the study will look at the supply chain serving the base. Then the county can reinforce the supply structures that the base needs, he said.

“It’s a gain all around,” Pierce said.

Travis Air Force Base had its beginnings in 1942 during World War II, when bulldozers carved out two runways in pastureland 10 miles east of Fairfield. Fairfield at the time was a small town with
about 1,400 residents.

A fast-growing base helped transform Fairfield-Suisun, as did the coming of the interstate freeway system and the rise of the commuter culture. Fairfield’s population by 1950 had doubled since the base opened and by 1960 had grown by 10 times, the start of a growth boom leading to today’s Fairfield population of about 105,000.

Today, Travis Air Force Base officials estimate the base’s local economic impact at about $1.4 billion annually. This includes the payroll for 13,368 employees at the base, other jobs created in the community because of the base and contracts awarded by the base to local businesses.

The base is the largest single employer in Solano County and employs about 6 percent of the county’s total industrial work force, a county report said. In addition, nearly 10 percent of the county population is veterans.

A county report said the study will assess:
  • Industry clusters in the county and how much these clusters rely on and benefit from the base.
  • Solano County’s work force and its ability to meet the demands of a more diverse economy.
  • Work force leakage, which is local residents taking their talents to other regions.
  • Potential opportunities to further diversify the county’s economy.
Finally, the study is to recommend a course of action.

If the Board of Supervisors grants it approval Tuesday, the county will look for a consultant to do the study. Results should be available in about 18 months.

Pierce said that the county receiving an economic diversification grant from the Department of Defense isn’t a sign that the base is marked for closure.

“The Department of Defense’s perspective is they want the communities around (bases) to be very viable,” Pierce said. “For a variety of reasons, it helps the bases.”

Mare Island Naval Shipyard closed in 1996 and set Vallejo into an economic downturn. Pierce clearly didn’t want to contemplate a Travis closure.

“It’s more than an economy to us, it’s part of our culture,” Pierce said. “That would be like us losing agriculture.”

Solano County will be the lead agency on the grant study, but intends to involve other organizations as well, a county report said. These include the Solano Economic Development Corporation, the Travis Regional Armed Forces Committee, the county’s seven cities, the Solano County Workforce Investment Board and the Solano College Small Business Development Center.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or beberling@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.