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What would this community do to attract a business with 300 full-time and almost 1,000 part-time jobs? What kind of effort would area leaders organize to draw an industry that would contribute an estimated $200 million to the local economy? What would it take to catch the attention of a company that provides services not only vital to our region, but vital to our nation?

I ask these questions because we already have a "business" that meets the criteria above. It's our Air National Guard facility at the Greater Peoria Regional Airport, a business that's jeopardized because of the round of military base closings and realignments set to take place in 2005. Our state has been hit hard in the past through the closing of such facilities as the Chanute Air Force Base and Fort Sheridan, and we can't afford more closings.

I'm calling on our business and community leaders to join the combined effort to save both the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria and the 183rd Fighter Wing in Springfield. These organizations provide a major economic boost to the economy of central Illinois-more than most people realize. This combined effort has been spearheaded by my office, along with Sen. Durbin and our other federal and state legislators, mayors Davlin of Springfield and Ransburg of Peoria, and with the expertise of committees organized by the chambers of commerce in both cities.

What we need from the business community is very simple: We need you and your company to provide support so this effort will have the ability to partner with consultants in Washington, D.C., who have the expertise on base closing issues. We can't bury our heads in the sand and hope the Base Closing Commission just passes us by this time around. We need people going to bat for us who know the ins and outs of the base closing process and how we can best position our facilities so they'll remain open. This expertise doesn't come cheap, and our chambers have pegged the figure at $100,000 annually for this effort.

Both the 182nd and the 183rd provide vital defense services to our country. A cargo plane from the 182nd, loaded with humanitarian supplies, was sent to Iran following the devastating earthquake in Bam, the first U.S. plane to land in Iran in two decades. As our country stays vigilant against further terrorist attacks, fighter planes from the 183rd have been put to use around the world, in our military efforts as well as here at home to escort airliners flying into airports in this region of the country. Both wings have seen their airmen mobilized for service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The folks who work at these facilities are our friends and neighbors, but they're also the people defending our freedom on a daily basis.

The economic impact these bases have on our communities is also vitally important. Not only are these facilities two of the major employers in central Illinois, the business that's generated for private companies who supply, support, or construct these facilities is enormous. By keeping these bases open, we'll not only save the Air Guard jobs, but we'll save hundreds of other jobs that help keep these facilities up and running.

So what can you do? Pick up the phone and call Rob Parks at the Chamber of Commerce at 676-0755. Tell Rob you want to help keep our local economy strong by supporting the 182nd and the 183rd.

The women and men of the Air National Guard are doing great things around the globe in this difficult time. Let's show how much they mean to us by doing all we can to ensure their jobs. IBI

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