January 22, 2012
Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon thinks everyday citizens should be involved in the state's efforts to retain and reuse its military bases. We agree.
Last week, Simon appointed seven citizen members to the Interagency Military Base Support and Economic Development Committee, which works to preserve Illinois' military installations while fostering strong economic connections with the local economies.
Make no mistake about it, active military bases give Illinois' economy a major boost, more important than ever during the state's tough fiscal times. Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, for example, is the state's single-largest employer south of Springfield.
But even military bases that have been closed can be turned into economic assets for their areas. The former Charles Melvin Price Army Support Center along the Mississippi River in Madison County was converted into the Tri-City Regional Port District, a major hub for inter-modal transportation that now is called America's Central Port.
The citizen members appointed by Simon to the state committee have volunteered to serve without pay. They joined the committee for the first time last week.
The new members include retired military personnel and economic development officials, which Simon said will bring more public input. The panel already included four members of the General Assembly, as well as representatives of various state agencies.
As chair of the committee, Simon makes recommendations to local, state and federal policymakers on retention, realignment and reuse efforts at Illinois' military installations. She said she believes the new citizen members will offer expertise from an array of career fields, including economic development, education, government and the military.
One of the new members is Frank Miles of Edwardsville, currently serving as the business development manager of America's Central Port. Another is Gary Gray of the port district's hometown of Granite City. Gray's career in secondary education includes roles with Southwestern Illinois College and the Lincoln Land Community College/Eastern Region Education Center.
We think it's a good idea to get such citizens, who have a lot of expertise and experience in the field of finding new uses for old military bases, involved in the state's decision-making process, rather than leaving it exclusively to lawmakers with political motivations and state bureaucrats who may be most concerned with protecting their own turf.
We also think it's a good sign that the majority of the new members come from Downstate Illinois rather than Chicagoland. As the committee's chair, Simon, a Downstater herself, clearly recognizes that issues of base closings and redevelopment affect Downstate Illinois more than they do Chicago. Allowing these Downstate members to participate should ensure that our part of Illinois gets its share of attention and resources to help keep these important economic drivers contributing to their local communities and the state as a whole.