Opinion: Michigan needs F-35 program for small businesses

Brian Calley

There is one trait that has stood the test of time for the Michigan workforce: resilience. We’ve undoubtedly battled through some tough times. But we’ve fought through and become stronger. As the times change and the makeup of production and industry shift with technology, we will continue to evolve and maintain that character trait.

I’ve seen this firsthand in both my political career and while serving as the head of the Small Business Association of Michigan. I was in office when Chrysler and GM filed for bankruptcy. While we knew it was on the horizon, the impact on our people was still difficult to bear. That isn’t the legacy of Michigan, and we still have time to adapt to a new economy.

Michigan small businesses have a significant role in the production of the F-35, Calley writes.

A perfect example of our ability to adapt is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program. While not often considered a defense-heavy state, Michigan small businesses have a significant role in the production of this state-of-the-art aircraft. The program supports more than 5,000 jobs at 49 companies, and is generating more than $500 million in economic impact throughout the state.

It is reassuring to see a such a well-maintained supply chain in the Michigan economy. The program is making good use of the positive business environment we’re building. But the impact of the aircraft doesn’t have to stop there.  

Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township may be considered for future F-35s in an effort to modernize the 127th Fighter Wing. The base itself is a job provider for men and women who have elected to serve. It also provides indirect jobs and economic activity for those servicing the base.

Even further, it has a resounding impact in the community that surrounds the base. Selfridge provides local restaurants and shops with a solid customer base, creating a healthy small business environment. Any effort to modernize the base, particularly with F-35s, should be welcomed by small businesses.

Congress will soon consider the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The negotiations will include how much funding is allocated to the F-35 program at large. Given its impact on the state of Michigan and the opportunity at Selfridge, it’s important that our elected members of Congress fully fund the program.

The program is a solid investment and the cornerstone of our military’s future. It is on its way to bringing down the overall price per jet to below $80 million, a significant achievement given the program’s size and scope. Additionally, funding the program at adequate levels will ensure that full rate production can be achieved across the supply chain, including in Michigan.

The F-35 program is helping to keep the Michigan economy strong and has opportunity for expansion at Selfridge. Our workers and small businesses rely on investment like this to prosper and advance in today’s competitive environment. The Michigan delegation needs to recognize these benefits and fully support the program during future NDAA negotiations and voting. 

Brian Calley is president of the Small Business Association of Michigan.