A recent Guest Opinion (May 9 by Kevin Cahill) called the Idaho National Guard Economic Impact Study misleading.
As authors of that study, we think our critic’s words were misleading. For starters, we were never asked to analyze the benefits and costs of deploying the F-35 at Gowen Field. As the title of our study implies, our task was to estimate the contribution of the Idaho National Guard to the Idaho economy.
Moreover, the Air Guard’s contention that the F-35 would allow Gowen Field to sustain that current economic impact, or slightly enhance it, is an accurate statement. Because the A-10 mission will be gone by 2021, the F-35 mission would backfill those impacts.
The F-35 is a considerably more expensive plane to operate, so the economic impacts may well be slightly larger.
A “well-trained economist” should know that economic impacts are a completely different concept than the net changes in social welfare measured in a benefit-cost analysis. Yet our critic seems to use impacts and costs interchangeably.
Yet he was forewarned. Gardner, together with retired University of Idaho professor Joel Hamilton, published a peer-reviewed journal article in the Annals of Regional Science in 1986, warning of the dangers of using IMPLAN impacts in project analysis. In that article, we conclude that true secondary benefits might only be in the range of 10 to 20 percent of direct value-added impacts.
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be forthcoming on the deployment of F-35s at Gowen Field. It should contain a comprehensive accounting of the positive and negative effects on the Treasure Valley, as our critic wishes our study had done.
It might be better to continue the policy debate when the EIS provides an objective analysis. Our impact study of the Idaho National Guard was the first to assemble all the direct impacts of the Guard in Idaho into a single analysis. We are proud of our work and stand by its results.
Richard Gardner is a Boise economist consulting under the name Bootstrap Solutions. He worked a decade each for the Idaho Division of Financial Management and the Idaho Rural Partnership. Tom Harris is a professor at the University of Nevada-Reno, where he directs the Center for Economic Development.