BRAC Closures Hit California Cities Hard A Decade Ago, Programs Like the F35 Have Kept Local Suppliers and City Revenues Whole.

California cities are a decade removed from the painful impacts of military base closures around the state. The most recent Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission submitted its final report in 2005 and implementation of BRAC was officially completed in 2011. California bore the brunt of this, with 36 installations lost -- the most of any state. A 2014 study found California lost thousands of jobs across 17 counties.

The F-35 fighter jet program has been a huge boost to the state's aerospace industry through that same period, but could be another major hit to California cities if Congress withholds funds. About 500 suppliers across California are part of the supply chain for the F-35. The program has generated hundreds of millions in total statewide economic impact and can continue to support local economies into the future, but recent discussions in DC have suggested potential cuts to the program. That would hit local California suppliers, and in turn City residents and City revenues.

Today the California aerospace industry has 203K direct employees, creating a total of 511K jobs across the state. Its revenue is equal to all of our agriculture and arts/entertainment industries – combined. California as we know it was built on the back of defense adjacent industries like aerospace in the years after World War II. Particularly in Southern California, it catalyzed growth in industry and drove municipalization of dozens of cities across LA and beyond.

The F35 is a lynchpin of this ecosystem, which is now also making California a leader in space exploration technology. The plane is also set to help replace the 80 percent of the Air Force fighter aircraft designed in the 1960s and 1970s, and primarily built in the 1980s. It’s not a stretch to say most of the pilots likely flying these planes may not have been born when they were built, in the Reagan administration.

The Biden administration announced a few weeks ago that it will seek $11 billion to buy 85 F-35 jets in the coming fiscal year. That puts the ball in the court of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, of which California’s Con. Ken Calvert is a ranking member, and Con. Pete Aguillar also sits. Supporting this program would keep revenue moving to California suppliers at a critical time, while bolstering national defense.

The thought of losing such a substantial economic driver for a critical industry is extremely worrisome from a city standpoint, where local revenues are already stretched and recovering from the pandemic, and the hard lessons of BRAC are a not-to-distant memory. An excellent book on how cities dealt with (and are still dealing with) those losses came out in just 2019, Salvaging Community: How American Cities Rebuild Closed Military Bases
 


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