Only On 6: Texoma's Economic Co-Pilot

Since before World War II, Sheppard Air Force Base has been serving not only the United States Air Force, but also Texoma.

Without the base it's arguable that Wichita Falls would be nowhere close to the city it is today. The base is a huge part of our economy. It may be surprising to some about just how much money the base brings not only to Wichita Falls but to all as "Texoma's Economic Co-Pilot".

In 2011 Sheppard Air Force Base reports a total more than $803 million in economic impact. That money is not just in Wichita Falls. It's a complex formula of job creation, expenditures and a whole bunch of payroll.

"The primary driver of the $803 million economic impact is salaries paid to military and civilian employees paid to the base," said George Woodward with Public Affairs at SAFB. "About $498 million of that is salaries paid. Most of that is to military that live on or around Sheppard but also to the civilian employees they live all through the region."

How it works is airmen and base personnel get paid at the base for their work. Many of them in turn spend some of that money at all kinds of businesses in Wichita Falls. That sales tax money makes a big difference in Texoma and not just in Wichita Falls.

"There are about 3800 military retirees who live in that region," said Woodward. "All told there is about $85 million in federal disbursements made to those retirees in the form of retirement pay."

Those retirees also spend money all over Texoma. That in turn ends up being more sales tax money in the coffers for cities to spend on improvements to make your life better.

Wichita Falls Mayor Glenn Barham said, "I don't think most people in the community realize exactly how much of an impact Sheppard has on the surrounding areas."

Some of that impact has been lost because of cuts the Base Realignment And Closure committee or BRAC made to Sheppard in 2005. Since then, 500 jobs have been phased out taking more than $200 million away from Texoma. The City of Wichita Falls knew it was facing a big loss, so leaders came up with a plan to not only help those immediately impacted, but to look at the future.

"'The 20/20 Plan' was a study done to help us understand what we needed to do to stabilize our economy what we needed to do to bring more citizens and tourism to the downtown area," said Mayor Barham.

Since the BRAC cuts, every time defense budget talks come up in Congress, Texoma waits to hear if Sheppard is at risk to lose even more. That's a concern U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry doesn't share He assures Newschannel 6 Sheppard will be safe.

"As long as the military flies airplanes, you have to have people who can work on them and we do so many other kinds of training at Sheppard then that mission is not going away," said Congressman Thornberry.

Base officials say, despite budget cuts the future of Sheppard is far from dim. New projects and new aircraft will keep Sheppard operating for years to come.

"Sheppard has a huge important mission that continues to be a major driver for the training and combat capability for the air force," says George Woodward. "So, our mission is going to keep an going, and our numbers may fluctuate over time but that's normal they've always fluctuated over time."

"None of us want to take Sheppard for granted," said Congressman Thornberry. "We want to make sure that even though we've got these essential missions that are necessary for

the military, that we build and strengthen Sheppard's position all the way around."

Mayor Barham said, "I believe that the training that goes one at Sheppard outside of the flying side of Sheppard, the training at Sheppard impacts every arm of the Air Force worldwide. I think the last stat I heard was that about 80% of the Air Force comes through Sheppard.

It is not clear if Sheppard will ever get back to that billion dollar mark in economic impact, but it is not out of the question. In the mean time both Texoma and Sheppard will continue to fly side by side for another 70 years.