Selma’s Lockheed Martin announcement delayed

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 16, 2005

Two words, Selma: Cautious optimism.

Lockheed Martin, a top 50 Fortune 500 company, selected Selma and Craig Field

Airport as the site of a project that could mean Craig would again train U.S. military pilots.

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Now, the U.S. military just has to choose Lockheed Martin this October. Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training and Support included Selma and Craig in its bid for a U.S. Air Force Introductory Flight Training contract. Lockheed is competing with other companies for the contract.

If selected, Lockheed Martin would establish Craig Field

Airport as the single location for all Air Force introductory pilot training, serving 1,300 to 1,700 students annually.

“We believe our community’s role in the proposal submitted by Lockheed Martin will provide the best overall flight training solution for the Air Force,” said Wayne Vardaman, President for the Selma/Dallas County Centre for Commerce. “And we believe that Craig Field

Airport is the best choice to serve the needs of the Air Force flight training program.”

Lockheed spokesman Warren Wright said current estimates have the program bringing 333 jobs plus 212 additional jobs during the construction phase.

“It’s going to be a pretty good shot in the arm for the area,” he said.

Air Force pilots are required to first obtain a private pilot’s license. Currently, the military sends pilots to private sector schools for the training. This project would bring the training back under military contro and provide standardization.

“The current procedure has been deemed unsatisfactory because the Federal Aviation Agency is essentially screening Air Force pilots,” a Lockheed Martin release stated.

“The best training possible at the lowest cost to the Air Force is our number one goal,” said Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training & Support president. “What sets us apart is our commitment to training and our years of experience delivering similar services for the Air Force.”

If Lockheed wins, it will be expected to establish a single training location and provide aircraft, aircraft maintenance, ground and flight training, lodging, food, transportation and security for 1,300 to 1,700

students a year. The Air Force will provide military control and oversight of the students.

Once home to the 29th Flying Training Wing – whose mission was pilot training in the Air Force – Craig Air Force Base was originally established as an Army Air Corps base in 1941 and trained pilots for duty in World War II. It was closed in 1978, leaving a gaping hole in the region’s economy.

“This will mean a lot for Selma economically in terms of jobs, in terms of spending. But it has a particular powerful symbolic significance for a lot of people,” State Senator Hank Sanders said.

Sanders, as a member of Team Selma, worked with the state to clear any hurdles in the process.

“The economic decline of Selma commenced with the closing of the Air Force base,” he said. “This is not the same thing but it’s at Craig Field, its training. The symbolic value has national implications.”

Local implications are huge, as well. Lockheed estimates if the project comes to Selma it would mean a $119 million economic impact over the 10 years of the contract provided each of the one-year options are picked up. Lockheed added that the facility would pay $500,000 annually in state incomes taxes, property tax, sales and use tax.

The project would affect retail as well as real estate in the county.

“These people are going to move in here and buy houses,” Vardaman said. “There’s going to be over 100 instructors out there, making good money and most of those people will have to be brought in. It just goes on and on.”

“I see this as probably impacting this area in a lot of different ways,” Probate Judge and Team Selma member Johnny Jones said. “Financially there are a lot of implications that I think will be good for Dallas County and the whole surrounding area.”

Sanders agreed, saying that the project would be uplifting for all of the Black Belt.

“Selma is kind of the capitol of the Black Belt. The impact of this is going to help Wilcox County and Perry County and Lowndes County,” he said. “The impact is certainly going to be regional. I’m talking about things that will eventually spring up in these other counties in connection with these kinds of things, local contractors. The reach goes far beyond the borders of Dallas


Vardaman said that Lockheed plans to use small businesses to provide services, which will aid the local economy as well.

“They’ll be spin-off industries,” he said. “They’ll even be some businesses created out of this which is very significant for the Black Belt.”

For months, members of Team Selma, local government and state government negotiated with Lockheed Martin. Whether or not Lockheed Martin and Selma land the project, getting this far is a huge success, according to those involved in the process.

“I think it’s real good news that these huge sophisticated companies are considering Selma,” Alabama Senator Jeff

Sessions said. “It says Selma is open for business, being evaluated by world class companies. I think that’s nothing but good news. It is just a top priority of mine to urge top-flight businesses, world-class businesses to consider Selma for economic expansion.”

Vardaman said the project could make a big difference in the area.

“Lockheed Martin is a Fortune 500 company, it gives us national exposure, international exposure,” he said. “It also opens up the control tower. The significance for Selma is more than the economic impact, it’s the message to the community (that) we’re moving forward.”

While excited, local officials are encouraging Selmians not to get their hopes up yet.

“Cautious optimism,” Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. said. “I think that’s the key. I think we’ve put together a great package and I think we really are making progress.”

Air Force representatives will be visiting Selma and Dallas

County between now and April in order to make their decision. Then it will be up to the U.S. military to decide.

Senator Richard Shelby, who was in Selma on Friday, promised to do what he could to support the project in Washington.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to help,” he said. “Selma is going to really