Question for city, town and county officials: Where were you?

By Mike Varney, Tucson Metro Chamber
March 2, 2012

Mike Varney Tucson Metro ChamberKnock knock. Is anyone home? Does anyone on the local town councils, the Tucson City Council or the Pima County Board of Supervisors want to root for the home team?

Apparently not.

The 162nd Air National Guard Fighter Wing is competing with other Air National Guard facilities around the country to have squadrons of the new F-35A fighters sent here. Having the F-35 stationed here in Tucson means a lot of good things for our community:

• Getting ready to receive the F-35s requires at least $176 million in construction projects at Tucson International Airport resulting in a two- to three-year stimulus for the Pima County economy and 1,800 new jobs.

• No increase in safety risks and a reduction of pollutant emissions compared to the current F-16 training missions.

• The 162nd currently employs more than 1,450 Southern Arizonans, almost all of whom pay taxes.

• The F-35 is a great fit for the newly targeted aerospace and defense industry cluster Pima County is proposing bonds to enhance.

The Air Force and the 162nd have gone out of their way to demonstrate sensitivity to the environment and to the community. Their draft environmental impact statement is well-prepared and builds confidence that the F-35’s arrival has been thoroughly researched.

At the three public meetings hosted by the Air Force and the 162nd in February legions of concerned citizens — many of them living in the current flight path — veterans, representatives of the Davis-Monthan 50 and business owners spoke on behalf of the home team. The Tucson Metro Chamber had at least one executive at each meeting. Chamber executives didn’t just show up — we spoke up! We want the F-35 to come to Tucson!

Missing from all of the public hearings were the politicians who are trying to convince us they are in favor of economic development. Where were you, elected officials?

Were you really too busy to help bring $176 million in construction projects to Tucson? Are you really too afraid someone in your ward or district will take issue with the leadership you did not demonstrate?

Actions speak louder than words. Your words about wanting jobs and economic growth in the region lose credibility when no one from any town council, city council or the board of supervices could find the time to cheer for the home team.

By contrast, here are some headlines from the Phoenix area and the campaign to bring the F-35 to Luke Air Force Base near Glendale:

• “Wide support for F-35s at Luke shown at West Valley forums” — Arizona Republic, Feb. 21

In the article, Jim Dean, a spokesman for the Dysart Unified School District, said, “The jets in no way impact the school, or are we concerned moving forward.”

• “Do your part to strengthen Luke’s F-35 chances” — Arizona Republic editorial by the Southeast Valley editorial board, Feb. 13.

• “Glendale Luke AFB still preferred site for F-35” — Arizona Republic, Jan. 20.

This article quotes Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs, saying she had “joined McCain in asking residents to continue to support the F-35.”

In the same article, Peoria Mayor Bob Barrett said, “It is gratifying to see our efforts combined with that of our West Valley neighbors to have an opportunity to show the Department of Defense why Luke Air Force Base is the best training site for the F-35.”

• “Glendale Luke AFB jet-noise issue revving up” — Arizona Republic, Jan. 30.

Check out this from the article: “Former El Mirage City Council leaders in 2009 had raised concerns about noise levels and negative economic impacts of the base on their community. Since then, the leadership has changed to become pro-Luke.”

It is disappointing that during this difficult financial time for the Tucson community, our local government entities appear to be AWOL for such a worthwhile project that would not only help bolster our economy, but also help solidify the long-term presence of the 162nd Air National Guard Fighter Wing — and its economic impact — in our community.

What is even more disheartening is how this inaction compares to other communities, such as Phoenix, which are actively courting the F-35s.

That said, it is not too late for our elected officials to act, but this project is taxiing down the runway. We call upon all local elected officials to immediately and meaningfully support the 162nd Air National Guard and the Air Force in this endeavor before we let another opportunity “take off” and leave our community even further behind.

The Tucson Metro Chamber remembers that during the recent election cycles all local elected officials promised to enhance economic development and bring jobs to our community. It bears repeating that action, or even more importantly inaction, speaks louder than words.

This community and this chamber are watching what you do way more than we are listening to what you say. We are keeping score and when it comes time to hold our elected officials accountable, we will not sit idly by. In fact, we will take the appropriate action.

Economic growth is more than a campaign phrase. It is action. Opportunity is knocking, can we afford not to answer?

Contact Mike Varney, president and CEO of the Tucson Metro Chamber, at [email protected] or (520) 792-2250.

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