HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- At least two and likely three operational F-35 squadrons appear to be headed to Hill Air Force Base, and state and local economic experts say that's very good news for the region's economy.
In late July, the Air Force announced that the base had been chosen as the Air Force's "preferred alternative" for the location of the first two operational squadrons of the advanced F-35 stealth fighter.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the Air Force officials also indicated that Hill would likely obtain a third operational squadron in 2019, assuming the F-35 program remains funded and on course.
The announcement essentially means Hill has one hurdle to clear -- the completion of an environmental impact statement -- before standing up two active-duty F-35 squadrons by 2013.
When the announcement was made, members of Utah's congressional delegation and other leaders spoke of the great economic impact the decision will have on the state, particularly the communities near the base.
Economic experts and lawmakers both say precise numbers can't be determined right now, but the F-35's biggest impact to the economy will be sustaining Hill for years to come.
"Just like when Hill received the first wing of F-16s, this keeps the base moving forward," said Gary Harter, managing director of business creation for the Governor's Office of Economic Development.
"Hill has a $3 billion impact every year on the state of Utah. The F-35 sustains that and potentially even grows it."
Kent Sulser, Davis County community and economic development director, echoed Harter's sentiments about what the F-35 means for the long-term future of Hill.
"The F-16 is being phased out, and if Hill didn't have a replacement, it would likely be phased out, too," Sulser said.
"In essence, it's (the F-35) retaining and upgrading the jobs we already have for long-term sustainability."
Hill is the largest component of Utah's Defense sector and the state's largest single-site employer, with nearly 30,000 total employees. Approximately 5,000 of those employees are active-duty members of the Air Force.
Sulser said losing those members would have a devastating effect on the local economy.
Of the approximately 5,000 active-duty military members at Hill, nearly 4,000 of them live in Davis County, Sulser said.
"The largest share of the impact would be in Davis County," he said. "You'd have an awful lot sucked out of the economy."
If the base were ever phased out, Sulser said, the state would lose approximately $200 million in tax revenue and $2 billion in employee earnings, the housing market would likely be deflated by 25 percent, and the total loss to the state's economy could reach $5 billion per year.
"In robust times, it would take about three to five years to recover from something like that," Sulser said. "But in today's economy, it could take 10 (years)."
Dexter Henson, global sustainment communications officer at Lockheed Martin, said six supplier companies in Utah can provide support in the manufacture of the F-35, with an annual economic impact of approximately $110 million and providing more than 1,500 direct and indirect jobs.
The companies include: Alliant Tech; Barnes Aerospace Ogden Division; EDO Corporation; Klune Industries Inc; Metalcraft Technologies; and Wyman Gordon Investment Castings Inc.
Recently, commercial real estate brokerage NAI Utah announced it had finalized a lease agreement with aerospace manufacturer Janicki Industries as the anchor tenant for JL Properties Inc.'s new business development in East Gate.
The company's new site will be a 100,000-square-foot composites manufacturing plant at 3835 N. Fairfield Road in Layton.
Supporting the F-35, the plant will employ about 50 full-time workers, the large majority of those positions to be open to the local work force, said Lisa Janicki, chief financial officer for the family-owned company.
"The bottom line is, the F-35 is great news for our economy," Harter said. "We look to be able to maintain the economic impact of the base and even increase it."