With the creation of a new military cabinet position, Gov. Mike DeWine is strategically positioning Ohio as a military and aerospace powerhouse to attract defense-related jobs and to protect the state’s military installations like Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
DeWine appointed retired Col. Joseph Zeis Jr., a Centerville resident and Dayton attorney, last week to serve as senior advisor for aerospace and defense.
“I guess what’s amazing is this position hasn’t existed before,” DeWine told the Dayton Daily News. “Other states are doing this and have been doing this for some time and have been putting some money into it so I wanted someone to focus on this every day and Joe’s the right person.”
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More than 60,000 people and another 50,000 related private sector jobs are based at Ohio defense-related installations like the NASA Glenn Research Center, the Defense Information Systems Agency, Veterans Affairs hospitals and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
“So many jobs directly depend on Wright-Patt, NASA Glenn, the Tank Company in Lima, the different guard bases,” DeWine said. “So it’s a tremendous economic generator. What I’ve tasked him with doing is working not only with bases but working with the local communities.”
Ohio’s federal and military installations generate more than $6 billion in annual economic benefit to the state, according to a report released in August 2018 by two state task forces.
Goal of new role
Zeis will report directly to DeWine. He will have three main objectives:
• Identify and seek growth opportunities for the state’s military and aerospace installations
• Concentrate on development opportunities in defense industries
• Work to advance the quality of life of service members and their families
In the next few months, Zeis will make his way around to the state’s military and aerospace installations, including Wright-Patt, NASA Glenn and the Springfield Air National Guard Base. He told this newspaper that his focus will also extend to the defense contractors in the region.
As he defines the role for himself, Zeis will play the part of advocate for Ohio’s existing and unique programs at installations — like NASA Glenn’s evolving space technology or Wright-Patt’s one-of-a-kind, $34-million centrifuge device.
“As a serving officer and even my time at the Dayton Development Coalition, I’d show people around to Wright-Patterson or various locations, and they’d say, ‘Wow! I didn’t know you did that here,’” he said. “Every time I hear that, it equates to lost opportunity.”
The last time Ohio had a role like this was about a decade ago. Joe Renaud served as the state’s Aerospace & Defense Advisor from 2004 until he left the position in 2009. After that, the role was not filled. Zeis’ background is uniquely tailored for a position like this.
Currently an attorney with Sebaly Shillito + Dyer, Zeis has an immense background in aviation and aerospace law, including drones and unmanned aeronautical vehicles, connections to the Dayton Development Coalition, and a 26-year career in the Air Force as a pilot and acquisitions program manager.
“They could not have found a better person,” Dayton Development Coalition President and CEO Jeff Hoagland told the Dayton Daily News. “[This role] is a loud signal that Ohio is open for military-related and aerospace business.”
He has more than 1,800 flight hours in more than 26 different aircraft, according to his biography on the law firm site.
After retiring from the Air Force, Zeis worked at the Dayton Development Coalition from 2007 to 2013 where he was responsible for the identification, facilitation, and implementation of aerospace and technology-related opportunities to support business development and expansion in the Dayton region.
“It is a very new position,” Zeis told the Dayton Daily News. “I think it really reflects Gov. DeWine’s emphasis on the critical importance of the military installations in Ohio, the real gems that are the research and development facilities that exist in Ohio, and also the aerospace and defense industry.”
Framing Ohio — with Wright-Patt at the helm — as the Midwestern military capital could be vital to keeping jobs in the state as the federal defense budget faces cuts in the future.
Realignment of military units happens frequently, outside of the Department of Defense’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. The Congress-authorized process allows the Department of Defense to reorganize bases.
During the last round of base realignment and closures in 2005, Wright-Patterson gained 1,200 jobs with the relocation of the 711th Human Performance Wing and the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine.
The 2005 BRAC closed 22 bases and created another 22 joint bases. The creation of Ohio’s military positions lags behind some other states — including Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Utah, Oklahoma and Massachusetts — that have made significant infrastructure investments or legislation changes to protect state installations against future consolidations or closures.
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Michael Gessel, vice president of the DDC’s federal government programs, told the Dayton Daily News that a person in this position would likely work with local military leaders to determine the needs of the installation and how the state can help support them.
“One of the ways of defending the installations is simply to have a good environment so that the installations are as efficient as possible,” Gessel said. “They give the federal taxpayers their money’s worth.”
The Department of Defense may look for some key state functions when deciding base closures and mission realignments:
• States need to have functioning transportation options for military members and civilian workers near bases.
• Defense officials may look at the quality of public schools available to military families. They would look at how a state’s education policies and laws support military families. Ohio recently passed a law that would require any state or local agency to issue temporary licenses and certificates to members of the military and their spouses who are licensed in other states and have moved to Ohio for active duty assignments.
• Military installations want a skilled workforce that can support new missions. Communities would need to “ensure the best workforce to meet DoD needs,” Gessel said. The F-35 Lightning II Hybrid Product Support Integrator coming to Wright-Patterson will create around 400 high-paying jobs for skilled workers like engineers.
DeWine has also talked about the importance of having readily available infrastructure near Wright-Patterson. A 2018 report from the Ohio House BRAC taskforce determined that aging infrastructure needs updated at Wright-Patt to “keep ahead of the technological curve.”
DeWine said he’d like to see available buildings right off base so that contractors and other businesses can easily move into a building in close proximity to the military.
“We’re looking at doing some type of partnership,” he told this news organization.
If a partnership like it did occur, it would likely be a large economic driver for surrounding cities like Fairborn and Beavercreek, as well as Greene and Montgomery counties. Deborah Gross, executive director of the Dayton Area Defense Contractor Association, said she was not aware of lack of space being an issue but it makes sense to be ready for the potential of growth in the defense sector.
To gain more missions, the base cannot be “facility-limited,” Zeis said. “You want to be able to allow that on demand so you can readily accept new missions and the new opportunities that may arise given an evolving defense strategy.”
The synergy and mutual support between organizations at Wright-Patt — the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, the Air Force Research Lab, the School of Aerospace Medicine, the Human Performance Wing — creates a stronger incentive for the DoD to continue investing in the base.
“If you follow the trail of consolidation over the years from BRAC 2005 and on … it leads to Wright-Patterson,” he said.
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