“They’re moving out every day,” Bee Development Authority Executive Director Joe B. Montez said Tuesday.
Most of the financial impact experienced here since 2007 was in the form of payroll. There were some small purchases from local businesses, but that was minimal.
Although Sikorsky had as many as 305 employees at Chase at the height of its activity, Montez said the number of individuals working at the facility averaged about 178.
Those employees who moved here from other locations raised their families here. They bought and rented homes, sent their children to local schools, paid local taxes, attended local churches and participated in community events.
And, of course, the helicopter maintenance, repair and overhaul operation employed plenty of local employees all those years.
“It’s disheartening and sad that they’re leaving,” Montez lamented. “They made a tremendous impact.”
Kay and Sikorsky’s presence at Chase Field paved the way for about $7.4 million in improvements to a crumbling, former naval air station.
Montez said those improvements should make Chase Field an attractive location for the next company looking for a place to settle and carry out its operations.
Montez ticked off a list of those improvements, ranging from the initial improvements worth $3 million.
Of that, the majority of the funds, $2.15 million, came from the BDA’s own coffers. Another $850,000 was invested by the Beeville Economic Improvement Corporation.
Later, the BDA and the BEIC combined their funds, $200,000 each, to finance a $400,000 warehouse expansion.
Another $100,000 was invested in renovating the Navy’s fire station building, and an additional $100,000 was spent on painting Hangars 24 and 25.
A second warehouse expansion brought another $400,000 investment to the facilities, with $4,000 coming from the BDA, $325,000 coming from the BEIC and a $71,000 state grant.
The new paint booth, one addition which will make the former base a special attraction for an aircraft-related business, brought another $819,000 investment to Chase.
Although the governor’s office in Austin provided $300,000 for that project, Kay and Associates financed the bulk of that project, $519,000.
When local oilman Dan A. Hughes decided to build a hangar at Chase and move his corporate jet aircraft there, he spent $1.25 million upgrading and repairing a runway.
Then the BDA and the BEIC put up $100,000 each to have a $200,000, state-of-the-art Global Positioning System installed to bring an instrument landing-and-takeoff capability to the complex.
Add to that another $100,000 in infrastructure improvements and an additional $1 million investment in hangar and shop upgrades to the buildings.
Although Kay has an option to extend its lease on the facilities at Chase with two, three-month agreements, Montez expects both companies to be gone by Dec. 31.
“They’ll use the extensions only if they have not moved out,” Montez said.
However, the BDA director expects another company to end up in the facilities before too long.
“We think we can market these facilities,” Montez said. He has already spoken with two companies which are interested in using the facilities for fixed wing and rotary aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul operations.
“We think we have some outstanding facilities,” Montez added. And they comply with all the fire suppression, Environmental Protection Agency and other federal and state regulations required to provide a safe workspace.
Montez is a realist when it comes to the defense industry. If Congress fails to come to an agreement on budgetary items and sequestration goes into effect at the end of this year, the Department of Defense will have to reduce its spending by $500 billion. And that is on top of an already-agreed-to reduction of $487 billion.
“That’s a trillion in cuts over the next 10 years,” Montez said Tuesday. “It’s going to be tough. But we’ve got to play the card that was dealt to us.”
Beeville is not the only place in the country that is being affected by the reductions in defense spending.
Montez said that most Bee County residents know that each dollar of a paycheck spent in a community changes hands seven times. In rural areas, that might change hands 2.5 to three times.
“That’s a tremendous loss to our community. I just hope we can recover a like amount,” Montez said.
Of course, Bee County will lose the support of Kay and Sikorsky in other ways. The companies painted the Navy jet on the courthouse lawn at no cost. They also provided the funds to rebuild and improve the veterans monument at Veterans Memorial Park. And they sponsored the Bee County Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquets.
Either one of the two prospects which have been looking at Chase Field could make a tremendous impact on the local economy, Montez added, “I can tell you that both are in the aircraft industry.”
The BDA director is hoping that he and his board can have some good news for Bee County and the surrounding area soon.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.