New state group could advocate for tank plant

First Posted: 7/17/2014

LIMA — The only manufacturing facility in the country capable of producing an Abrams tank has a new advocate: an Ohio government commission.

Task Force LIMA, the group trying to prevent the federal government from shuttering the facility temporarily, learned Thursday the state will create a federal-military jobs commission to help protect federal military jobs, such as those at Lima’s Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.

“That question has been asked for years: ‘Will the state take this on?’” said Lima Mayor David Berger. “Now we have an answer. That’s great news.”

The state recently approved House Bill 483, the state’s appropriations bill, which had some other issues tucked into it. Among them was a section creating a federal-military jobs commission, which aims to collaborate on the local and regional levels to protect and grow jobs at military installations.

The organization will include three members appointed by the president of the Ohio Senate, three by the speaker of the Ohio House and three by the governor.

In some ways, it mimics on the statewide level what Task Force LIMA has been doing locally, getting people from different areas together to protect the military facilities.

“It’s absolutely a step in the right direction for us and for Ohio,” said Keith Deters, plant manager of the JSMC.

The Defense Department maintains it doesn’t need the Lima-based Joint Systems Manufacturing Systems plant to continue building the Abrams tanks right now and wants to mothball the factory, a government-owned, contractor-operated facility run by General Dynamics Land Systems. By 2019, the Defense Department wants to ramp up a newly engineered tank, which hasn’t been named yet.

The task force spent the bulk of its Thursday meeting reviewing information used in a 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission report, when the Lima plant narrowly avoided closure.

Retired Gen. Matt Kambic, an adviser to the group, noted five areas the group could influence, out of 40 total, including education, employment, housing, medical providers and safety/crime. Kambic found the plant scored low in 2008 compared in employment, housing and medical providers compared to other Army depots and arsenals considered.

“It’s important for our officials to see how the Department of Defense views this community versus the other communities,” he said.

He found the government had inadequate information in some cases, giving the region negative marks because it had obviously incorrect information, such as the number of childcare facilities near the plant and the average ACT scores. He urged them to gather correct information to help any future BRAC proceedings from making an ill-informed decision.

“Any idea when the BRAC is going to occur?” Kambic said. “Me neither. Be ready.”

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