FAIRFIELD — Budgets may be tight, but Travis Air Force Base is still more than able to carry out its mission, thanks to the dedication of its airmen and a determination to fill the needs of its service members and their families.
That was the central nugget of the talk Travis commander Col. Dwight Sones gave to the Solano Economic Development Corporation’s 30th annual meeting Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Sones said that the base is tightening its belt for the time being after the Air Force directed all major commands to start a series of cost-saving measures in case Congress allows massive cuts to defense spending, called sequestration, to take place in March and if Congress fails to pass an appropriations bill this fiscal year.
Expenses that are not deemed critical to the mission included cutting supporting flying missions not directly related to readiness, implementing a civilian hiring freeze, deferring repairs and renovations that are not emergencies and canceling all travel that is not mission-essential.
“Some things we will have to stop doing,” Sones said.
Sones described the measures as reversible and recoverable. He also described the situation as a very dynamic environment that could change quickly. Action is required now even though sequestration may not take place in March or may be delayed by federal leaders.
“We still have to deal with it,” Sones said.
Sones pointed out that the Air Force has not instituted anything like furloughs or reductions in force. He also promised those present that as Travis gets more information about the situation and any impacts, “We will keep you in the loop.”
He said Travis has gotten a reputation for stretching its dollars, with the base’s recent monetary awards for increasing its fuel and energy efficiency.
The Travis commander also used the talk to give Solano Economic Development Corporation members an economic snapshot of the base and the construction projects going on there.
Travis has $13.7 billion in assets and facilities, has a $1.4 billion economic impact and its spending generates about 5,000 jobs in the community, according to data from the base’s 2011 Economic Impact Report, which Sones quoted.
“And the 2012 data is expected to be very similar,” Sones said.
Travis still has a lot of construction in the works, even though it is less than in the past, Sones said.
It has seen several projects completed in the past year, such as the $5.4 million cargo-loading facility and the $11.9 million new fire station, as well as present projects such as the $14.5 million fuel-distribution system and the $1.7 million military working-dog facility.
The $70 million runway reconstruction and new assault runway construction is expected to be finished in April. The assault runway will be used for training by Travis aircrews and also by aircrews from other bases, “and that is huge,” Sones said. The savings from not sending aircraft elsewhere to train will allow the runway to pay for itself within three years.
A $22 million first phase of an airmen’s campus housing facility is under construction, with completion expected in January 2014 and the second through fourth phases expected in the next several years.
David Grant Medical Center just started the second phase of its planned improvements in November 2012, with $63 million being spent to improve the emergency room and outpatient facilities. Future improvements include the operating room, women’s clinic, and labor and delivery rooms.
Solano Economic Development Corporation President Sandy Person preceded Sones’ remarks by talking about Solano County’s economic situation. She said “there is a recovery in place” that has seen industrial vacancies in the county drop from 15.1 percent to 13.4 percent while unemployment dropped to 9.3 percent.
Person said that every community in the county has seen improvements with new businesses opening and bringing jobs to the area.
Solano Economic Development Corporation also recently embarked on a study funded by a $369,860 Department of Defense grant to examine and make proposals about better diversifying the county’s economy.
“This is not about shrinking Travis,” Person said. “This is about growing the pie.”
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.