Community Looks to F-35 to Help Recover from Defense Downturn
The city of Goodyear, Arizona, was once a vibrant aerospace manufacturing hub with a long history of building aircraft, blimps and other equipment for the U.S. military. It weathered the post-Cold War plunge in defense spending and a round of base closures.
But after sequestration cuts hit the Pentagon in 2013, among the trickle-down effects was the decision by the nation’s top defense contractor Lockheed Martin to consolidate many of its U.S. facilities, which meant shutting down operations in Goodyear.
Like other communities affected by Pentagon budget cuts, Goodyear is seeking to attract new industries to the area. A priority for city leaders now is to find businesses to take over a 500,000 square foot “aerospace campus” that is being vacated by Lockheed’s defense and intelligence division.
The plan is to attract a mix of civilian and defense companies that would be drawn to the area because of its proximity to Luke Air Force Base, said Steven M. Hyjek, a Washington attorney who represents a group of 14 communities that surround Luke. The same alliance successfully lobbied for Luke to be chosen as one of the home bases of the F-35 joint strike fighter, which Lockheed
Martin manufactures in Fort Worth, Texas. As more F-35s arrive at Luke, “we expect more aerospace companies will be interested in doing business” in Goodyear, Hyjek told National Defense.
With an F-35 wing in its back yard, the city will continue to have ties to the military and the defense industry, but barring an unexpected military buildup, buildings like the former Lockheed campus will likely see fewer defense workers and more from civilian industries, he said. “Because of sequestration we lost many jobs. The question becomes, how do we maximize the potential industry connections to the F-35 that benefits both the Air Force and the companies that would come to Goodyear and be located just a few miles from Luke?”
The aerospace boom started during World War II when Goodyear manufactured thousands of military aircraft and, after the war, transitioned to making dirigibles or "blimps” as well as other surveillance systems for the Defense Department. That plant was sold to Loral Defense Systems, which later was acquired by Lockheed Martin.
The company employed as many as 1,200 workers in Goodyear in 2009 and began to downsize in 2010, said Harry Paxton, economic development project manager of the city of Goodyear. After the sequestration-related cutbacks announced in November 2013, Lockheed’s presence would be reduced from 600 employees to about 50. “Those were high-wage jobs that paid over $100,000 per year,” Paxton said.
The campus spreads over 18 buildings. “We would like to recruit more aviation, aerospace and cyber security companies,” said Paxton. Some of the buildings are so-called “skiff” facilities — shorthand for sensitive compartmented information facilities — that have been certified by the federal government to be secure for classified work. “We’re going after this market too,” he said.
Hyjek is hopeful that more businesses will be drawn to the area as the F-35 gains visibility. Luke currently has 23 F-35s. By 2024, it expects to have 144 aircraft in six fighter squadrons. The base is now home to the Air Force’s F-16 flight school and eventually will transition to the training of U.S. and foreign F-35 fighter pilots. In the next few years, 10 other countries are planning to conduct F-35 training at Luke, including Norway, Italy, Turkey, Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, Israel, Japan and South Korea. Australia has already arrived and is flying with the 61st Fighter Squadron.
Luke Air Force Base's 56th Fighter Wing officially changed its mission in May to include the F-35. The base has been an F-16 Fighting Falcon-only installation for 19 years.
The presence of the F-35 is estimated to have a roughly $1.3 billion annual economic impact, Hyjek said. “The F-35 is a huge economic component of the local economy.”
Companies that support the airframe could have an interest in being located near Luke, he said. Firms in the aeromedical sector, for instance, could gain closer access to military technology and pilots, Hyjek said. “The Mayo clinic, for example, has an interest in doing a study on hypoxia. There are no known issues, but with the F-35 at Luke they would like to see this as an opportunity to explore that.”