LAYTON – The race for the GOP nomination in Utah’s 1st Congressional District is full of campaign rhetoric about defending Hill Air Force Base.
But candidate Bob Stevenson of Layton says that protecting the economic asset that Hill AFB has become for northern Utah is simple.
“It’s all a matter of dollars and cents,” Stevenson explains.
Located just south of Ogden in Davis County, Hill Air Force Base is Utah’s sixth-largest employer. More than 10,000 service members and their dependents are assigned to the base, with many of them residing in the nearby communities of Layton, Clearfield, Riverdale, Roy and Sunset.
One of the base’s tenant organizations is the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, which employs more than 16,000 civilian workers. In 2019, Hill Air Force base pumped an estimated $3.7 billion into Utah’s economy, including annual payroll of nearly $1.5 billion and more than $800 million in local expenditures.
“You can’t let an economic asset like Hill AFB become weakened,” Stevenson argues. “The way that a military installation becomes weakened is by losing missions … That can happen when the Pentagon discovers that it can perform a particular function cheaper in Oklahoma than it can in Utah. So, Hill has to be able to continually demonstrate that it’s an efficient operation that can perform various missions for the least possible cost.”
Stevenson says that Hill’s military and civilian managers have successfully demonstrated so much efficiency and versatility in the past that the base now has “something like 50 different missions.”
“We now tend to associate the base with the new state-of-the-art F-35 fighter planes stationed there … But what makes Hill an economic powerhouse for northern Utah is all the civilian jobs associated with all its other missions,” Stevenson explains. “It’s like any civilian corporation that needs to be kept busy all the time.”
When it comes to Hill AFB, Stevenson knows what he’s talking about. He’s been intimately associated with base issues since the 1980s, first as a member of the Layton City Council, then as mayor of Layton starting in 2013 and as a Davis County commissioner since 2018. Stevenson is also a member of the Utah Defense Alliance, which lobbies for Hill AFB and other Utah installations.
In addition to hosting the new F-35 fighters, the missions now assigned to Hill AFB include providing maintenance support for F-16 and F-22 aircraft, repairing landing gear for both Air Force and Navy planes, munitions storage, training over the nearby Utah Testing Range in the West Desert and maintenance of the U.S. arsenal of 450 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“The other factor that’s important (to protecting the value of a military installation) is having key missions,” Stevenson adds. “Having the new F-35’s here is obviously a key mission. But so is our new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.”
The GBSD is a replacement nuclear weapons system for the Minuteman III missiles that are now based in silos throughout the western United States. The new missiles are being built by Northrop Grumman. The project is expected to take more than a decade at a cost of up to $85 billion.
The GBSD project is a big deal for Hill,” Stevenson says, “because it will start with the new missiles being prepared right here. That’s why Northrop Grumman is putting up two new buildings on the base and will eventually bring in 2,500 to 3,000 new jobs there.
“Arranging to facilitate long-term strategic projects is how you make an installation like Hill AFB too valuable for the Pentagon or Congress to even consider closing.”