Letterkenny making progress

June 05, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - On the eve of the 56th anniversary of World War II's D-Day, Letterkenny Army Depot celebrated the progress it's made since it faced its personal D-Day five years ago: The decision by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to transfer much of its operations to other military bases.

The main accomplishment at the base has been private-sector development that has created about 300 jobs to help make up for the 3,000 federal jobs lost as the depot has downsized over the past decade.

Other bright spots were also recalled, such as the 1993 addition of tactical missile maintenance that boosted the depot's workload.

"We had a great victory, and boy, did we celebrate," said U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa.

Shuster described the downsizing decision two years later as "an incomplete success."

In September 1995 retired banker Robert Zullinger was named chairman of the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority, then called the Franklin County Reuse Committee. The authority was created to chart development of 1,500 of the 19,000 acres of the depot the Army declared excess property.


The authority subsequently created the Cumberland Valley Business Park, with 21 tenants and about 300 private-sector jobs. Zullinger said Monday he will step down as chairman in July.

"It's really time for new leadership," said Zullinger, who will remain on the board of directors.

While many of the buildings turned over to the authority have been sold, Zullinger said a major goal remains unrealized.

"The disappointment has been that we haven't landed a big employer yet," he said.

The authority unsuccessfully courted a plastics maker, a food processor and a printer that could have brought in hundreds of jobs, Zullinger said.

"We are talking with another firm that has to stay confidential at this point, that affects this very building," Building 56, he said. Until last year it had been used to produce 950 Palladin self-propelled artillery pieces.

"When you look at the pace of economic development in other communities, we've moved rather quickly," Authority Executive Director John Van Horn said about other downsized military bases. That was in part due to the existing buildings available for sale to companies such as Agway Inc., American Stair & Cabinetry Co., Graphics Universal and LamTech Inc., he said.

Van Horn said the challenge is developing land that the Army will turn over to the authority in the future. Some land has been designated as a Keystone Opportunity Zone, with state and local tax breaks aimed at attracting major industries.

Shuster said the federal, state and local governments have spent $31 million since 1995 to improve roads, rail, water, sewer and electrical service. Van Horn said the addition of a natural gas line this year could attract a major tenant.

There were about 3,100 federal employees at the depot and its tenant activities before the base-closing commission decided to transfer the vehicle and artillery maintenance missions to depots in Texas and Alabama, according to depot spokesman Alan Loessy. The depot was Franklin County's largest employer at the time.

Created in the months after Pearl Harbor, the depot employed about 5,000 people in 1989, a number Loessy said gradually decreased over the past decade to about 1,750 now.

Shuster said the depot remains the county's second-largest employer. "We continue to fight hard for Letterkenny" to keep defense jobs there, he said.

Shuster said a House of Representatives defense appropriations bill will include at least $48.3 million next year for tactical missile defense maintenance at the depot.

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