Time is right for the East Valley Aviation and Aerospace Alliance - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Time is right for the East Valley Aviation and Aerospace Alliance

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Jim Ripley is the former executive editor of the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at jimripleyaz@gmail.com.

Posted: Monday, April 18, 2011 1:45 pm | Updated: 2:03 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Out of the corner of my eye I caught the word "aerospace" and the letters "WV."

WTH! Why is WV popping up on my computer screen?

An ad from the state of West Virginia had attached itself to an email from Boeing's community relations manager Mary Baldwin.

The email in my Google Gmail account was about the fledgling East Valley Aviation and Aerospace Alliance in AZ - not WV.

My WTH! moment passed as I realized that Google had been eavesdropping and had served up an ad in response to seeing the word "aerospace" or maybe "Boeing" in the message.

I clicked on the ad and learned that West Virginia's "tradition of quality work continues in world-class aerospace companies like Bombardier, Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed Martin."

I learned that West Virginia's development office wanted to talk to me about "how West Virginia will benefit your company's bottom line."

I'm not in the aerospace business. I'm in the community building business.

So what I really learned was that the East Valley can't afford to blink. It can't take for granted the presence of companies like Boeing or Orbital Sciences or MD Helicopters.

The poachers are watching and listening and they're finding aggressive ways to dangle enticing tax and incentives packages to lure high-paying aerospace jobs their way.

That's one reason the time is right for the East Valley Aviation and Aerospace Alliance.

The East Valley Partnership and the Mesa Chamber of Commerce have been incubating the alliance for several months, and they're ready to get off the nest.

The alliance has firmed up its membership, its vision and leadership and is expected to make its formal debut in late May.

The vision that alliance project manager Mike Hutchinson and East Valley Partnership director Roc Arnett shared with me knocked my socks off; so I'll begin there.

A popular term in business goal-setting sessions is BHAG - short for Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

The alliance's audacious goal is to "make the East Valley the Aviation and Aerospace Center of Excellence in the West."

Take that, WV. Take that Southern CA. Take that Seattle, WA.

But how do you make that happen?

One answer that Hutchinson and Arnett gave me at first blush was underwhelming. It targets educating the public and the politicians "concerning the importance of the aviation and aerospace industry in the East Valley."

Don't we already know that?

Some do, but a lot don't.

To Tony Ham, Boeing's site leader at its behemoth Mesa facility, the goal of promoting "awareness of the aviation industry and its value in the community" is a leading reason he agreed to serve on the alliance's executive committee.

And another reason offered by Ham: "preserving flight corridors that are vital to aerospace operations."

First, a very abridged history lesson:

The East Valley's first shot at prosperity came 70 years ago when two military pilot training fields were built here - one at Falcon Field and the other at what is now Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

Even though that legacy has carried the East Valley a long way, I'll bet you could tap 10 people on the shoulder at any East Valley mall and nine would have no knowledge of the legacy or what it means to our economy - by some reckonings over $3 billion.

Worse, people build their homes up to the end of the runway and then want the planes to stop.

They haven't figured out that if the planes and, in Boeing's case, the Apache helicopters go away so, too, will the high paying jobs and all they mean to our quality of life.

Mesa Chamber of Commerce President Peter Sterling is a California transplant and brought to the alliance's thinking the story of the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Orange County, CA.

When the government decided to close down the Marine Corps air station, local leaders proposed turning it into an international airport.

The not-in-my-backyard folks fought back and won. Today, Marine Corps Air Station El Toro is going to be a 1,300-acre park.

Who needs jobs and commerce when you can have very large park with lots of low-wage groundskeepers?

There's much I'll have to leave unsaid in this column about the promise of the East Valley Aviation and Aerospace Alliance.

But the promise would have been seriously compromised if the city of Chandler had not eventually joined in.

A visit to the Chandler Historical Museum tells you just how much the city of Chandler owes to Williams Field, which begot Williams Air Force Base, which begot Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

A museum exhibit says that Williams Field, just nine miles away, brought Chandler out of the Great Depression.

But when the Air Force left and a group of East Valley cities worked to transform the field into a commercial airport and job generator, Chandler dropped out. Its debt unpaid.

This time, Chandler City Councilman Jack Sellers brought the city back into the East Valley fold after city management had said: Not interested.

Chandler paid its $1,500 in alliance dues after Sellers offered to represent the city, taking a burden off of a city staff already stretched thin.

"Whatever happens in the East Valley benefits the entire East Valley," Sellers explained.

Sellers knows, too, the East Valley alliance has its sights set on a pool of research money with an enormous benefit.

But that's grist for another column.

• Jim Ripley is the former executive editor of the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at jimripleyaz@gmail.com.


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