Editor’s note: This story originally ran on Oct. 5, 1996, and is being republished to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the port authority.
HEATH – Gov. George Voinovich has vowed to assist the Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority in its quest to bring additional jobs and high-tech businesses to the Central Ohio Aerospace and Technology Center.
“I want (this) to become not only the aerospace capital of Ohio, but the aerospace capital of the world,” Voinovich on Friday told a group of about 500 Rockwell International Corp. officials, employees and state, federal and local leaders at the dedication ceremony for the Rockwell Guidance Repair Center.
The event capped a successful nine-month transition of the former Newark Air Force Base wokloads to private contractors Rockwell and Wyle Laboratories.
Rockwell leads a team of original equipment manufacturers, including AlliedSignal, Honeywell, Hughes, Kearfott, Litton and Smiths Industries.
The companies have developed more than 90 percent of the hardware, test equipment and procedures used at NAFB.
The state pitched in grants worth $391,792 from the department of development’s Defense Conversion Assistance Program to assist with the first ever privatization-in-place of a military installation.
“We’re investing your money back into this facility so we can keep jobs and create jobs for the Newark area,” Voinovich said.
The Port Authority is leasing 80 percent of the property to the contractors to perform the maintenance, repair, metrology and calibration activities at the Heath site.
The Port Authority, contractors and Detachment 1 – an Air Force installation which will oversee worldwide metrology management – expect to employ more than 1,000 workers.
Voinovich urged U.S. Reps. John Kasich and Robert Ney, and Sen. John Glenn to assist in the effort to market the remaining facilities.
“We’re going to do everything we can to create a business environment,” Voinovich said.
Port Authority Executive Director Wally Horton has said he is negotiating with several companies to bring more work to the center, including one that could employ about 60 people.
He has said he wants to see computer repair, research and development and high-tech industries move into the center.
Rockwell officials have said they are in the bidding process to possibly bring in additional defense workloads, including a contract performed at NAFB about five years ago.
The company plans to examine its core competencies to see how it stacks up in the commercial industry before seeking work outside the government contracts, said John McLuckey, president and chief operating officer of Rockwell’s aerospace and defense business.
Air Force Undersecretary Rudy de Leon said he is proud of the team effort which made privatization-in-place.
He said the civilian workforce, federal, state and local officials, private contractors and the Newark/Heath community made it possible when many doubted its feasibility.
“There were those who said privatization wouldn’t occur,” he said, noting the Air Force intends to use the former NAFB as a model for other bases set for closure.
But a hurdle that could stand in the way of that feat is a lawsuit filed against the government by the American Federation of Government Employees, the labor union which represented civilian workers at NAFB.
The AFGE cites two federal laws which state privatization is illegal.
One requires core logistics functions – those vital to successful war fighting – to remain under Pentagon control.
The other requires both the private sector and other military bases be given equal opportunities to bid on work offered under contracts.
No trial date has been set, but de Leon said the parties are attempting to work out their differences.