February 1, 2012 12:32:00 PM
Columbus Air Force Base is Lowndes County's largest employer, providing 3,000 military and civilian jobs.
The average salary is more than $41,000, well above $35,000, the approximate state average.
And each year, the base pumps anywhere from $230 million-$300 million into the local economy; in 2010, $126 million of that was payroll.
In so many ways the base changes the regional landscape for the better, from supporting small businesses to attracting military retirees to the area and contributing to the increasing international presence in the Golden Triangle.
Just outside the base's south gate is a small Chinese restaurant almost always packed with airmen. Not much farther west on Highway 373 is an alterations shop that specializes in Air Force uniforms.
These businesses thrive thanks to CAFB. So do car dealerships, developers of downtown apartments and area restaurants.
A base economic impact study estimates 5,665 retired military personnel live in the area, undoubtedly taking advantage of base privileges and pouring another $104 million into the local economy.
On the local scale, the air base is vital to Lowndes County and the surrounding area. This is not new news or something we've not said here before. Still, it bears saying again. We don't want to be alarmist, but with the ongoing cuts in defense spending, we need to be ever mindful of this resource that has been part of this community for more than half a century.
On a national scale, CAFB trains one-third of Air Force pilots -- 475 a year -- and many international pilots, as well.
It's sometimes easy to overlook the positive things going on in our community. And the base too often is regarded as a separate entity.
Let's always remember that CAFB and those who work and live there are important to the Golden Triangle for many reasons tangible and not.