Columbus Air Force base generated $249.6 million of economic impact in fiscal year 2015.
That’s what 14th Flying Training Wing Commander Col. John Nichols told a packed house at the Columbus Air Force Base’s Columbus Club during a presentation that was part of the Base Community Council’s first meeting of the year. Nichols delivered a briefing on the base’s performance over the past year, including an economic impact report.
The base’s nearly $250 million impact to the region is up more than $8 million from the $241.4 million economic impact in 2014.
The biggest portion of CAFB’s impact comes from $134.2 million in payroll. Nichols said CAFB’s 1,500 military personnel and 1,300 civilians draw paychecks from the base. That money, in turn, filters into the community.
“That paycheck supports their families,” Nichols said. “They buy cars here in Columbus. They go out to eat. They spend money. That money is infused right back into the local economy, so it makes a big difference.”
The base’s annual expenditures make up the second-largest portion of its economic impact, with $82.8 million. Most of that money came through $66.6 million for contracts, supplies and equipment. The total also includes $9.8 million in construction and $6.4 in miscellaneous expenses, 99 percent of which was for health care.
Indirect jobs made up the final piece of the base’s economic impact. Those jobs, which Nichols said are the ones that exist in the community because of the base, generated $32.5 million.
“So if Buffalo Wild Wings has to add another server because so many airmen are down there, that’s the indirect job effect,” he said.
A-29 training a success
Nichols also lauded the 81st Fighter Squadron’s success in training Afghan fighter pilots to fly the A-29 Super Tucano.
The 81st Fighter Squadron is a geographically separate unit for the 14th Flying Training Wing, and is housed at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
The program began in September 2015, and is scheduled to grow to 20 A-29s that will be used to training 30 Afghan pilots and 90 maintainers at Moody AFB through 2018.
The first group of pilots to finish the training have already returned to Afghanistan and completed a combat mission.
“We’ve got 9 A-29 Afghan pilots that we trained right here in the United States and they’re back there taking the fight to the enemy,” Nichols said.
Nichols said that is a tremendous source of pride for the 14th Flying Training Wing, which provides the training for pilots to go fight enemies in their home country.
“At the end of the day, it means that we are giving the Afghans themselves and opportunity to take real control of the situation,” Nichols said. “We are providing them a combat air arm that allows them to take care of some really bad folks on the battlefield. Instead of us doing it, they’re doing it, and we made that all happen through our training. We’re extremely proud.”
Nichols will leave Columbus Air Force Base in July to go to Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Nichols will have been with the 14th Flying Training Wing at Columbus Air Force Base for about two years when he leaves, and he said that’s the standard length for a command tour in the Air Force.
“It’s going to be tough to leave,” Nichols said. “We’ve met so many great people.”
Nelson said Chief Master Sgt. Rita Felton, the base’s Command Chief Master, is leaving in October.
“It means there’s going to be a lot of change, but what I can assure you of is this place won’t miss a beat,” Nichols said. “It will be like nothing happened. I promise. That’s how we do things in the military.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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