Very simply, 2013 was a tough year for Middle Georgia. We were dealt multiple blows from a strained, uncertain budgetary environment in the federal government, ultimately impacting Robins Air Force Base and the entire Middle Georgia region.
Sequestration, budget reductions, hiring freezes, and furloughs were just some of the challenges the Robins base population faced during 2013. Worse yet, all of this turmoil created anxiety and uncertainty in the minds of the workforce. Even the most optimistic worker had trouble believing the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t just another train.
The good news is that 2014 has dawned with a new spirit of optimism. The recent Washington budget compromise gives the Department of Defense a much-needed level of financial stability. Although the defense budget continues to decline, Pentagon planners at least now can plan for the spending levels they have been given.
This is good news for Robins Air Force Base. Base leaders will be able to better predict what the new budget realities will mean for the base, allowing both the workforce and the Middle Georgia community to adapt to a new normal.
Given this optimism, Robins Air Force Base and the Middle Georgia community must take advantage of this newfound stability to prepare for our future. However, to do so will require all of us to think differently.
First, why is this important to you if you don’t work on Robins? The fact is that 28 cents of every dollar earned in Middle Georgia is earned on Robins Air Force Base. The reality is that Robins is our economic engine and every Middle Georgian is directly impacted by the base’s economic health. The expectation should be that there will be another Base Realignment and Closure Commission in the near future (most likely in 2017) that could impact the future of Robins and the Middle Georgia economy.
So what does preparing for the future and thinking differently mean? For those that work on Robins Air Force Base it means three things:
First, productivity and key measures of merit must improve starting this year. Everyone (management and the workforce) must be playing from the same playbook and understand that results are the pass/fail grade for our future.
Second, the relationship between management and union leadership must continue to improve. Progress has been made with the new union leadership team in place, but much still needs to be done. Both sides must focus together on taking care of the workforce and the mission ... focusing on only one is a 50 percent solution, which is a failing grade.
Third, the base must become more cost-effective to operate. Public/public and public/private partnerships will provide this opportunity, and progress has already been made. However, Air Force leaders must be more innovative in looking for new and larger opportunities to partner.
Preparing for the future and thinking differently also means three things for Middle Georgians:
First, the community must more aggressively help the base find ways to reduce its operating costs. Community leaders must leverage their civilian experience to find potential solutions and share them with the base.
Second, Middle Georgia needs to do a better job of selling its strengths throughout the state and across the country. Recent studies completed by the 21st Century Partnership underscored we have much to be proud of with Houston County schools, regional medical care, our approach to eliminating encroachment around Robins and improving air quality throughout the region. Key decision makers in Atlanta and the Department of Defense need to know, and we need to tell them!
Finally, we must take advantage of this opportunity to make Middle Georgia an even better community to live, work and play in. Areas such as crime reduction, cost of living and public transportation are ripe for consideration and require our collective attention.
Together, we have the opportunity to ensure that the future of Robins Air Force Base is bright and that Middle Georgians will benefit from this economic engine for years to come. However, to do so requires us to think differently. The time to do so is now. It’s our choice.
Retired Maj. Gen. Bob McMahon is a former commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center and is president and CEO of the 21st Century Partnership.