Study shows severe impact of potential Hill closure

If Hill Air Force Base is forced to close its doors next year through a federal mandate, it would have little long-term impact on the state’s economy, but could ravage two counties’ economic futures, according to a recently concluded U study.

If that happens, the state stands to lose $2.3 billion of its annual budget-a 2.6 percent decrease from its current budget, the study shows.

The sprawling, 6,600-acre, Ogden-based facility that occupies much of northern Davis County and winds into southern Weber County could be on the chopping block after the latest round of base closures through the Department of Defense’s Base Realignment and Closure Act.

“We made some pretty worst-case scenario assumptions. We had no idea what to expect going in, but we had no plans to make dire economic assumptions,” said Jan Crispin-Little, a senior analyst in the Bureau of Economic Business Research, whose office conducted the study.

“The Economic and Fiscal Impacts of Closing Hill Air Force Base” study began in Aug. 2003 when the Utah Defense Alliance-a group of defense contractors, local government officials and business leaders-contacted the bureau in the hopes that the results of an economic impact study would keep Hill Air Force Base away from BRAC closure consideration.

Although the study was carried without any input from state government officials, Amanda Covington, spokesperson for Gov. Olene Walker, said that maintaining the base’s role in Utah’s economy is a major concern for the state’s chief officer.

“Independent of the study, her priority is committed to preserving Hill Air Force Base,” Covington said, adding that Walker doesn’t view the study’s findings as a “complete report of the situation.”

But, said Utah Defense Alliance Executive Director Rick Mayfield, “the numbers are alarming.”

Despite the governor’s non participation in the study, Mayfield said the bureau was chosen to conduct it because of its distance from the politics of the base’s future.

“They’re an independent voice and a pretty sophisticated outfit that does good work. We just wanted to make sure we had a set of numbers we could agree with,” Mayfield said.

Regardless of an official seal of approval, Crispin-Little said Davis County has a lot to lose if the base is shuttered.

“Davis County really bears the brunt of the impact, but we really don’t see huge impacts on the state’s economy,” she said.

However, the closing of Hill Air Force Base would eliminate 15,000 jobs in Davis County and would force 31,000 people to leave the state, the study shows.

That includes 7,600 school children, or 1.3 percent of the school age population baseline.

It would also mark the first time in more than 60 years that an urban county in Utah experienced a population decline.

“That’s unheard of,” Crispin Little said.

But local economies won’t be the only victims of the base’s closure, said Pamela Perlich, a senior research economist and co-author of the study.

“We would take a substantial hit in tax revenue at the state level,” which is where most of the funding comes for higher education, she said.

Though the state has weathered past BRAC recalibrations like the Tooele Army Depot’s 1993 realignment, Perlich said closing down Hill completely could wipe out Davis County’s economy for more than a decade.

“Ten or 15 years at least is what you’re probably looking at. It’s going to take a long time for them to recover,” she said.

According to Hill Air Force Base’s Web site, the facility has a cooperative effort with academia to “transfer Air Force-owned or developed technology to society and the marketplace.”

But U Air Force ROTC Maj. David Musser, who served as the chief of systems engineering from March 1996 through July 1999, declined to comment about any interaction between the U and the base.

Hill Air Force Base officials also wouldn’t comment, and representatives from the Office of Public Affairs didn’t return two phone calls by The Chronicle.

Though the bureau’s study generated some grim numbers, Perlich said base proponents shouldn’t give up hope. “It’s very possible that a small portion of the base could be shut down, but we’ve got some things on our side,” she said.

Those include the base’s designation as one of only three air logistic centers in the nation. Perlich also expressed optimism about the state’s long-term economic survival if the study’s worst-case scenarios are met.

“We can withstand it. It’s not a deathblow…There’s an inertia of economic growth going on all the time, and where one door closes another one opens,” she said.

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