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Dayton suburb anxious about cuts to defense

– Businesses in a southwest Ohio community fear a financial blow from possible defense spending cuts at a nearby Air Force base.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Fairborn has more than 29,000 military and civilian personnel, including contractors and private businesses. Of that number, nearly 14,000 military and civilian personnel are employed by the Air Force Materiel Command headquartered there.

“The only way we survive is with the base, so any up or down at the base affects us,” said Mike Gharst, owner of Roush’s Restaurant in the Dayton suburb of Fairborn, which has a population of about 32,000. “If (cuts) happen, we’ll just be slower.”

The Pentagon has ordered measures aimed at cutting costs and improving efficiency that are expected to affect the base and others under the command of the AFMC.

The AFMC employs 82,000 people at its nine bases, which also include ones in Tennessee, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Utah, New Mexico, Georgia and Oklahoma.

The AFMC, which employs people in acquisition, research and development, testing and other duties, could impose a civilian hiring freeze and fire some temporary employees among other cost-cutting moves, the Dayton Daily News reported.

AFMC spokeswoman Susan Murphy said that officials expected to outline specific cost-cutting measures for the short term last week, and that deeper cuts could follow if Congress and President Obama don’t stop nearly $500 billion in automatic budget cuts scheduled to start in March.

Murphy stressed that actions being considered for the short term would not prevent hiring “if it’s necessary to continue the command’s mission,” and the command has been looking at cuts that could be reversed if more money becomes available.

She said unnecessary travel already has been curtailed. The command could defer base maintenance and curb the purchase of office equipment, among other possibilities already outlined by the Air Force. Spending on advisory and assistance services also could be reduced, and current contracts also could be reviewed for any cost-cutting possibilities.

Angie Stringer, manager of Cadillac Jack’s restaurant in Fairborn, says a worst-case scenario from massive cuts is “that we could be out of a job ourselves. We’re struggling as it is to keep the business up and running.”

Wright-Patterson retiree Carl Newman, 76, says the base is definitely important to everyday life in the community.

“The people that live here work there or have relatives who work there,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it a company town, but it’s kind of in that same vein.”

Newman says fewer Air Force contracts to local contractors also would hurt businesses.

Fred Domicone, owner of Domicone Printing Inc., said the town can tell when the number of employees at the base changes.

“We can actually see it in the volume of people that come in,” he said. “We can see it in the amount of open businesses in the community. And it’s a noticeable difference.”

But Joseph E. Zeis, executive vice president and chief strategic officer of the Dayton Development Coalition, said the area can better withstand cuts if it focuses on core areas tied to Wright-Patterson and its industrial and research base, even as defense budgets are cut.

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