Friday, January 31, 2014

Travis’ roots in Solano County pervasive, deep

By Ian Thompson
January 31, 2014

FAIRFIELD — Solano County would be a much different place if Travis Air Force base wasn’t here.

Businesses such as Travis Credit Union, which started as an on-base business, would not exist. The same goes for a good number of other businesses attracted here by government contracts or the workforce of trained former military members the base generates.

“They have a lot of good job skills that they have put back to work,” Fairfield City Manager Sean Quinn said Thursday of Travis service members, who range from aircraft mechanics working at San Francisco International Airport to fliers who established successful travel agencies.

Air Base Parkway would not exist. Nor would much of the commercial development along North Texas Street, such as the car dealerships that “were a beehive of activity” thanks to paychecks from Travis airmen and their families, according to Travis Community Consortium member and retired Air Force Col. Bud Ross.

Neither would Travis School District exist, which almost exclusively served military children when it was formed and now serves students in parts of eastern Fairfield and southern Vacaville.

Fairfield, Vacaville and Suisun City would be nowhere as diverse as they are now, thanks to the families that came here from around the world and stayed on in the area after the military breadwinner retired from the Air Force.

“A recent study showed we are the single most ethically diverse area in the country and that is one of our strengths,” said Sandy Person, president of the Solano Economic Development Corp.

Until Travis was established, Solano County’s main population center was Vallejo, thanks to Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Person said.

“We would be a much smaller town, more heavily dominated by agriculture,” Quinn said of Fairfield.

When Person pitches Solano County to a potential new business, Travis is part of that. She points out its labor pool. Travis’ presence was one of the reasons the light aircraft maker Icon may decide to locate in Vacaville, Person said.

Neither would the communities be as large as they are without the retired military, veterans and base workers who cluster here because of the base, its employment and its services.

David Grant Medical Center, and the Veterans Affairs medical clinic located with it, is a major reason so many military retirees chose to stay here, Ross said. That facility also generated a good crop of doctors, dentists and other medical professionals who stayed here to practice medicine once they took off their uniforms.

The base affected how far east Fairfield and how far south Vacaville can expand their development, based on the communities’ Travis Protection Plan to ensure encroachment doesn’t doom the base if the Pentagon and Congress decide to once again close bases.

Quinn, Person and Ross, all Travis Community Consortium members, agree that the area has done and continues to do as much as it can to protect Travis.

“There will be more opportunities to partner with Travis and we need to take them,” Quinn said of the ongoing work to meet the base’s needs.

That includes keeping down the costs of Travis doing business in the state as much as possible, Person said. Ross added that work needs to be done to streamline the processes the base goes through to build projects such as the recently completed assault landing strip.

“We need to make sure that we never take Travis for granted,” Quinn said. Person said that current leaders need to cultivate that support of the base in future residents.

“A lot of Solano County businesses don’t realize how their business and lifestyles are so dependent on Travis,” Ross said.

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