SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke said Utah needs to be proactive now to protect Hill Air Force Base from any future cuts.
Cooke, along with Oklahoma County, Okla., Commissioner Ray Vaughn, met with media on Tuesday at the Alta Club in Salt Lake City. Vaughn gave a presentation about what his county did to protect Tinker Air Force Base, in Oklahoma City.
“My purpose today is to alert the state that something needs to be done,” Cooke said.
Cooke said he doesn’t have a specific plan, but if elected governor, he will go to the Pentagon to find out what the Air Force needs to protect Hill Air Force Base.
Vaughn said his county, the state and Oklahoma City bought a General Motors plant that had been closed in 2007. The plant is next to the base and the state agreed to lease it to the Air Force for $10 a year.
The Air Force recently initiated a restructuring plan to increase efficiency and save about $109 million annually.
Hill Air Force Base was part of that restructuring, and on July 17, Hill’s Ogden Air Logistics Center was reorganized and redesignated the Ogden Air Logistics Complex.
The transition resulted in the loss of 159 military jobs at Hill, and the management of the Air Logistics Complex now reports to Tinker Air Force Base.
Cooke said Hill should be treated as a business, and state officials, including Gov. Gary Herbert, need to get ready for proposed BRAC discussions in 2015.
Utah can learn a lot from what Oklahoma did to keep and bring jobs to Tinker, Cooke said.
Vaughn said his state did not have any formal commitments from Air Force officials that they would keep and bring jobs to Tinker before the county bonded for $55 million to buy the GM plant.
“There is no such thing as BRAC-proofing,” Vaughn said.
Cooke said Oklahoma was willing to take a risk to ensure jobs stayed there.
But when asked what Utah should do or what plans Cooke had to keep Hill’s jobs in Utah, Cooke had no definitive answer.
Cooke did say anyone can line up the dots to see where future jobs will go and what could happen if Utah leaders are not proactive. Cooke also said he is not aware of what the Utah Defense Alliance has done or is doing to protect Hill from BRAC considerations.
Cooke said the only answer he gets from state officials is “we’re running (Hill) efficiently.”
“It is the single largest employer in this state, and more needs to be done,” Cooke said.
Gov. Gary Herbert said in a written statement that he “recognizes the vital importance of Hill Air Force Base to our national defense and to Utah’s economy. HAFB is one of the state’s largest employers and it supports a number of other businesses throughout the state.“
Herbert went on to say that protecting the base is “a team effort” and he has worked with the state’s federal delegation, as well as the Utah Defense Alliance, to protect the base.
He said he “will continue to be a champion for HAFB,” and the base will thrive due to the “hard-working men and women on base — not because of politics.”