Santa Rosa County reaps more than $1.2 billion yearly in economic benefits from Whiting Field Naval Air Station, local leaders learned during a congressional field hearing Monday.
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, chaired the hearing, which focused on what political leaders can do to ensure the Milton base continues to grow.
State Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, serves on Florida’s Defense Support Task Force, which works to grow the military sector of Florida’s economy.
“We are known as the most military friendly and veteran friendly state in America, and we are the envy of every other state in that respect,” said Broxson, who added that the military has recently surpassed agriculture as the second most important economic driver in the state. Tourism is the state’s most important economic driver.
Whiting Field, which conducts 60 percent of all of the Navy’s primary flight training and 100 percent of the Navy’s advanced helicopter training, is crucial to national security, Gaetz said.
“To preserve the mission of Whiting Field, we shouldn’t assume that because it is here and because we are proud of it, it will always be here,” said Gaetz, who added that Whiting and other local bases could be at risk in future base realignments or base consolidation moves by Congress.
“We need a concentrated focus and effort to ensure that Whiting’s mission remains strong,” he said.
Santa Rosa County Commissioner Don Salter said the county applied for and received an $8.5 million grant for infrastructure improvements at Whiting Aviation Park through Triumph Gulf Coast, the organization created to distribute about $300 million in restitution money paid by oil giant BP in the aftermath of the massive 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill.
The improvements are expected to bring in 200 aviation-related jobs and strengthen the region’s “aviation cluster.”
With the Triumph money and matching funds, the county should have about $18 million to develop the first 40 acres of the planed 270-acre park, Salter said.
Gaetz said the park could be important to protecting the base’s mission. If a helicopter breaks down at Whiting, base leaders could go to the park for repairs instead of calling on experts in places as far away as St. Louis, he said.
“This is an opportunity guard against a possible loss of our threat to the military mission in any base realignment,” he said.
Monday’s field hearing was the third held by Gaetz since his election in 2018. Previous field hearings have focused on intellectual property theft by China and Iranian interference in the politics of Latin America.
Gaetz is facing a tough primary election challenge from Chris Dosev, a Marine veteran from Pensacola and Miramar Beach Republican John Mills.
Originally posted here.