WILKES-BARRE — If there is a review of military bases in the near future, the Blue Ribbon Task Force is determined to assure the Tobyhanna Army Depot remains operational.
A legislative and stakeholder briefing was held Friday morning at the Holiday Inn Wilkes-Barre East Mountain to begin the process of providing community-based support for the depot, the largest industrial employer — more than 3,800 — in the region.
The Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) is a public-private partnership of community leaders that places its focus on highlighting the depot’s role as an economic engine and its impact on the regional economy.
That economic impact, according to information offered at Friday’s meeting, is significant:
• $3.1 billion economic input on Northeastern Pennsylvania.
• The 3,852 employees — 982 reside in Luzerne County — average 14 years in experience and the average median salary is $55,932 per year. That compares to the average median salary in NEPA of $39,280.
• Tobyhanna employees pay $274 million annually in federal, state and local taxes.
Frank Zardecki, deputy commander at the depot, said some $644.6 million have been invested in facilities’ modernization at the depot between 2006 and 2016. He said another $156.9 million will be spent between now and 2020.
Zardecki said there are always concerns whenever talk surfaces about a possible review of military bases/depots — the process is called Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) — and is an attempt to increase the efficiency of the U.S. Department of Defense.
“But what we have been doing with our modernization, coupled with our high efficiency ratings, we feel we are positioned well for the future,” Zardecki said.
Zardecki said there are reports a BRAC review could be done in 2019, but added “nothing is official.” He said the key is to stay on top of the process and to assure community and elected officials are supportive of the effort to keep Tobyhanna open.
“Other states, like Georgia and Texas, spend millions on the campaigns to keep their bases open,” Zardecki said. “That’s not so in Pennsylvania.”
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, attended the meeting and said he will do what he can to convince state officials, including the governor, to budget funding for the campaign to keep the state’s bases open.
“To lose a base like Tobyhanna would be catastrophic,” Pashinski said. “I certainly heard the message here today and I will do all I can to find more dollars to get the message out.”
Barry Rhodes, chairman of Cassidy & Associates, a large federal government relations firm, gave a Power Point presentation that detailed key points on what needs to be said and done during a BRAC review.
“Bad military bases are now closed,” he said. “The good bases, like Tobyhanna, remain open.”
Rhodes said the next BRAC review will focus on efficiency and maximum cost savings.
“And the focus will be on closures over realignment,” he said.
Jeff Box, CEO of NEPA Alliance and co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, said his organization serves as the contact for the task force. He said the NEPA Alliance website has information and videos on the task force and the BRAC process.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.