Allies step up for RI Arsenal

By:  Kurt Allemeier
Quad-City Times

The Quad-City congressional delegation is well-armed to fend off a threat to Rock Island Arsenal's Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center, local officials say.

The Arsenal has four U.S. senators and three congressmen to fight for it, and they are well-versed in its importance to the Quad-City economy and national security as it faces a budget-cutting task force from the U.S. Army that is considering JMTC as a possible target.

The bistate and bipartisan Quad-City congressional delegation sent a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh last week seeking a meeting regarding JMTC.

Local officials say they keep an ear to the ground for good and bad news when it comes to the Rock Island Arsenal. They raise the importance of the facility during lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., and arrange tours for Iowa and Illinois' congressmen and senators. They seek new tenants.

"We need to be proactive on this," said Rock Island County Board chairman Jim Bohnsack, who leads the Rock Island Arsenal Development Group. "We have friends in government that let us know there is a task force. Our whole goal there is to prevent another (Base Closing and Realignment Commission)."

"I think we've been worrying after the last BRAC. We can't stop worrying and say everything is OK."

BRAC, or the process to close defense installations and move commands, last resulted in changes ordered in 2005 that still are being implemented, shifting some resources away from Arsenal Island but bringing some commands to the island as well.

Bohnsack said he thinks the current congressional delegation is well-educated about the Arsenal's importance and is strongly united behind it despite Washington's partisan air. Both states' senators are split by party, with Illinois represented by Democrat DickDurbin and Republican Mark Kirk, while Iowa's senators are Republican Chuck Grassley and Democrat Tom Harkin.

"This is as comfortable as I've felt with this delegation," Bohnsack said, "with the Durbins and the Kirks working hand in hand on this."

Republican Bobby Schilling represents the Illinois Quad-City congressional district, while Democrats Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack represent the Iowa Quad-City area.

Plus, the delegation has representatives in positions of power.Durbin serves as Democratic whip in the Senate, and Schilling and Loebsack sit on the House Armed Services Committee.

Local officials know what to say, too. They point out that costs of moving a division from the Rock Island Arsenal to a facility in Michigan cost more than it saved. They also know the current work force on the island is more than 8,000 and has grown in recent years.

"We've been meeting ever since I was mayor, at least monthly and sometimes more often, to work in a proactive manner to see jobs aren't taken from the Arsenal but are added," Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba said. "We stress the importance of protecting our No. 1 employer."

The work of Quad-Cities First and the Rock Island Arsenal Development Group also are important, said Quad-Cities First chief executive officer Tara Barney.

"Our efforts over the past few years have been working with all the commands on the island to make sure what they do is more integrated into the region," she said. "At Quad-Cities First, we are working to identify business partners for the factory. The more we can have that factory operating with military and private work will help us when something like this comes up."

Everyone is working together to make sure JMTC isn't affected by the Army task force, Moline Mayor Don Welvaert said.

"Plain and simple, it is nothing any of us want to hear, and we've all been fighting for a long time, since the last BRAC, to be proactive," he said. "We will do everything we can along with our congressmen and senators to keep all those jobs at the Arsenal."