Travis leaders talk strong base economy, efforts to promote innovation

August 07 2017

By Ian Thompson From page A1 | August 04, 2017

FAIRFIELD — Travis Air Force Base not only continues to be the county’s biggest economic engine, but it’s advancing a program to empower its airmen to put forward innovative ideas to improve how the base – and the Air Force – does business.

Col. John Klein, 60th Air Mobility Wing commander, shared the stage with Maj. Tony Perez to put forward those messages Thursday morning to Solano County business leaders.

After Klein laid out the base’s fiscal year 2016 Economic Impact Analysis, Perez put forward Phoenix Spark, a new innovation program, that helps build bridges with industry, academia and government to nurture new ideas.

He shared the vision with more than 150 members of the Solano Economic Development Corp.

The 2016 Economic Impact Analysis report, which was released last month, pegged Travis’ contribution to the area’s economy at $1.65 billion, an approximately $200 million increase since 2014.

Klein attributed much of that economic success to the relationships Travis has throughout the area, “and ones that will endure.”

“I see this as more than just a partnership,” Klein said. “The community is vital to our mission. We receive from you much more than we give.”

Travis remains the largest employer in the county, with 6,641 active-duty military members, 2,853 Air Force Reservists, 1,849 civil-service civilians and 1,169 civilians in nonappropriated fund positions, contracts and private businesses.

Klein said Travis’ current goals are to further strengthen community partnerships and find ways to more effectively carry out its mission. For the future, he said that is enhancing and revitalizing base facilities and infrastructure as well as preparing for the arrival of the KC-46 air refueler in 2023.

Though Travis’ total financial impact has increased, ongoing budget uncertainty has taken a toll on airmen, readiness, equipment and planning, Klein said.

“It creates a challenge to spend efficiently and consistently,” Klein said. “We realize that this budget uncertainty is likely and thus, we’re empowering our airmen to innovate with industry to bring tomorrow’s tools to the war-fighter today.”

With that, Klein introduced Phoenix Spark, a base-level innovation program created to connect Travis airmen with people in private industry, academia and the Department of Defense in order to solve problems at the base level.

Klein described Phoenix Spark as a way to “empower these young airmen and get out of their way” when it comes to finding innovative ways to make the Air Force better.

Perez, who helped establish Phoenix Spark, then explained the program’s origins and its current initiatives.

“How do we bring tomorrow’s tools to the war-fighter today,” Perez asked the audience.

Perez answered: By creating “the connective tissue” between Travis airmen, who see a problem to be solved or have an idea, and those outside who could collaborate to come up with solutions.

After the talk, a good number of local business leaders strengthened that connective tissue by coming up to Perez and asking how they could be involved.