Wurtsmith, A District with a Bright Past...And an Even Brighter Future
Wurtsmith Air Force Base (W.A.F.B) was decommissioned by the Government in 1993. Along with the 379th Bomb, wing departure was 3,200 military personnel, 700 civilian jobs, and a direct negative economic impact to the area of over $85 million. Indirect impacts were to schools, retail businesses, and the local tax base that totaled tens of millions of dollars or more. The closure of the W.A.F.B. left a virtually self-contained community in which the U.S. Air Force had invested tens of millions of dollars over seven decades in the infrastructure that is maintained in top condition.
Visionaries in the community, however, saw the base closure not as an economic catastrophe, but as an opportunity to build a healthier, more stable industrial job base for northeast Michigan. The initial redevelopment of the former base was orchestrated by a government-funded caretaker position partnered with the creation of the Wurtsmith Development Commission (WDC) in 1994, which consisted of 5 members from surrounding municipalities (Oscoda, AuSable, Greenbush, and the counties of Iosco and Alcona).
In 1997 the Charter Township of Oscoda applied for and was granted one of the newly created State of Michigan Renaissance Zones. Under the Renaissance Zone Status, businesses within the zone are exempt from virtually all state and local taxes for 15 years. With all the money saved from these tax breaks, it allowed those establishing new industries in the District to concentrate monetary resources into working capital. This Renaissance Zone is scheduled to sunset on December 31, 2011.
Today the Wurtsmith district is integral to the community’s economic potential. More than 40 private businesses and public agencies use the former Air Force facilities and infrastructure, providing more than 1,300 jobs to the area, as well as the conversion of former base housing to 700 privately owned residential homes.
Thanks to $5 million in state funding for the construction of a new 747 aircraft hanger in 2008, Kalitta Air has entered into an 18-year lease with the Oscoda Wurtsmith Airport Authority. Kalitta, an air freight service, will maintain and service its own jet fleet as well as others at this site. Similar to the auto industry and the spin-off businesses that surround an auto plant, having the anchor of Kalitta Air has attracted other aviation-related businesses to Wurtsmith, primarily those providing maintenance and repair of large aircraft. A primary goal of the airport authority would be to position the airport as a hub for maintenance activities. Other industrial businesses in the District include several manufacturing facilities as well as a telecommunications company.
In addition to the industry in the Wurtsmith District, you will find a business and residential zone. The District is the location of churches, medical care facility, the Public Library, community college, and performing arts theater. There are several museums in the District including Wurtsmith Air Museum, and Veterans Memorial Park of Northeast Michigan.