In an effort to maintain the status of Abilene's largest employer, the Development Corporation of Abilene on Tuesday agreed to provide $200,000 to help Dyess Air Force Base secure a state grant that would fund security upgrades at the base Visitors Control Center.
The Abilene Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee requested the $200,000 to help fund part of a $1.75 million grant that would allow the base to improve security at the entrance gate, said Kent Sharp, DCOA CEO.
To apply for the grant, the community surrounding the base must provide 20 percent in matching funds to receive the grant from the Texas Military Preparedness Commission, or $350,000 in this case, Sharp said.
The remaining $150,000 would be made up of in-kind, or non-monetary, contributions from the federal government, according to a news release.
"There are deficiencies at this control center," said Bryan Yates, chamber vice president for military affairs.
For one, the visitors center is too small, which would make potential security threats worse. Yates said once a week the visitors center detains someone whose background check flagged a current warrant. If that person does not want to be detained, the danger would be lessened in a larger, more secure facilities.
Additionally, the improvements would increase the base's ability to tackle terroristic threats and crowd control issues, among others, Yates said.
The new visitors center has been designed and ready to go out for bid; it is just waiting for the funds to move forward, he said.
These upgrades should help Dyess in the long-term because the congressional Base Realignment and Closure process evaluates facilities for infrastructure deficiencies, and the ratings from that process greatly affect which bases remain open, the release states.
Yates said aside from the moral duty to protect the airmen on base, the latest economic statement from 2014 indicates that Dyess injects $1.2 million a day into the local economy and employs more than 5,400 people. The annual estimated payroll is $268 million.
"It is the single largest employer in the area. If that base were to draw down or close altogether, it would be a significant negative impact to the Abilene economy," he said. "Even though we have made great strides in the last 20 years in diversifying our economy, this is still an important component, and we want to make sure that stays there for the foreseeable future."
The DCOA also approved funds to rehabilitate the railroad crossing on Five Points Parkway in the Five Points Business Park, which is so worn out that numerous holes have appeared in the wooden crossing.
The board authorized a contract with Trac-Work Inc. to refurbish the rail crossing at a cost of $37,342. The DCOA received another bid from Lone Star Railroad Contractors for $38,785.