FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) –Allen County is home to the Indiana Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing and the Blacksnakes. The base was founded more than 70 years ago and still carries a significant military role in national defense, but it’s also important to the local economy and culture.

Greater Fort Wayne, Inc. kept tabs as the base transitioned from A10 planes to F-16s earlier this year and commissioned a study from the Community Research Institute on the long-term viability of the base.

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“We’ve got to understand the economic impact to the community of the base here,” Greater Fort Wayne’s John Urbahns, president/CEO, said Monday. According to his organization’s data, the base is one of the top 25 employers locally.

Rachel Blakeman, the research institute’s director, found using the limited data model available that the base employees contribute $63 million annually to the local economy, $94.1 million to the 10 northeastern counties of Indiana’s 3rd Congressional district and $113 million to the statewide economy.

“We were focused primarily on the payroll of employees. There’s a lot of base spending that we weren’t able to capture in this, so, if anything, this number is artificially low for the true economic impact simply because of how military base spending works. We knew that going into the project,” Blakeman said.

“It’s a federal operation, a military base and so often, there are national contracts for a variety of services, so it’s difficult to identify where the spending happens,” Blakeman said.

What the study wasn’t able to capture was “the impact of spouses and partners who are here in Fort Wayne as a result of a spouse or partner’s employment at the 122nd,” Blakeman explained.

Residents often don’t realize the base employs more than 1,100 people – 420 full-time employees and 727 part-time, Urbahns said.

“We commissioned this study so the community could understand the overall impact of the base. There’s been a lot of change over the years with going to the A10s and now going from the A10s to the F16s,” Urbahns said.

“We want people, both the elected officials and the community, to understand what the impact is to our local community. It’s not just a national defense mission, but it’s a general economic mission in our community.”

Col. Joshua Waggoner, 122nd Fighter Wing Base Commander, told WANE the study was important.

“This study is important because it captures the tangible financial benefit of the 122nd Fighter Wing to Fort Wayne and our community.  It confirms that the Fighter Wing is key to the economic health of Northeast Indiana.  But what makes the 122nd truly vital to the success of Fort Wayne are the men and women who serve.  The value of their knowledge, skills and abilities is immeasurable.  We’re proud to live, serve and give back to our thriving community and look forward to continuing that service for generations to come.”