By Sen. Scott Meyer
On Feb. 23, 2018, the secretaries of the Navy, Army, and Air Force sent a letter to all governors through the National Governors Association addressing the importance of quality education and licensure reciprocity in regard to quality of life for service members.
To retain highly trained military members, their children need to be in good schools and their spouses in good careers. The three secretaries stated that future basing or mission decisions will now include criteria on good schools and licensing reciprocity.
In August, Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson visited Grand Forks Air Force Base to witness the first-ever trans-Atlantic flight of a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft departing from Grand Sky UAS Park.
During that same visit, I was fortunate to attend a roundtable discussion with Dr. Wilson and Col. Spencer, Chief Thomas, and the Base Retention and Investment Committee. At that meeting, Dr. Wilson again expressed the importance of quality education and the need to modernize our laws regarding reciprocity on occupational licensing. She highlighted recent legislation that was passed in Utah, which is the framework for the bill I am bringing forward this legislative session.
The intent of this bill is to eliminate licensing barriers that an experienced trailing spouse may encounter after receiving an assignment to a North Dakota base. This will not only assist in our state's workforce shortage, which currently has more than 13,000 open jobs, but also will allow that trailing spouse to continue and sustain their chosen career - a win-win situation.
Grand Forks Air Force Base welcomes about 450 new airmen each year, and Minot AFB welcomes about 1,500 new airmen. Military spouses are educated, experienced, team-oriented and civically engaged. Despite their credentials, nearly one-third of military spouses are underemployed and roughly 38 percent earn less than their civilian counterparts.
Whether a military member decides to leave or to remain in the service often depends on employment of their spouse. Retention of highly trained military staff is vital to operating highly complex military equipment and systems. The military cannot afford to lose talent. Over one-third of spouses hold an occupational license, especially in the health, educational and social service professions.
After serving about three years, military families usually have less than three months' notice to move to their next assignment. That allows little time for a spouse to find a job and reapply to meet a new state's licensing requirements. Licensing is their greatest challenge. We can solve that problem to gain educated workers, help with retention of our airmen, and support our military.
Employment and quality of life for airmen and their families are important aspects of this bill. The other vital component is the future of our state's military bases. When considering future base missions or base closures, quality of local schools and the reciprocity process for spouses will now be a metric used in that decision. North Dakotans have a long history of supporting our military members and the bases in our state. We want to continue that fine tradition, and be proactive in keeping our bases and growing their missions.
The North Dakota Military Force Structure's Fiscal Year 2017 Economic Impact Analysis states that last year military organizations in our state employed 13,900 people and created another 3,874 indirect jobs in North Dakota. Annual payroll for military employees is approximately $693.9 million and indirect salaries totaled $182.6 million. The military also has direct expense for construction, services, materials, equipment and supplies in the amount of $271.3 million.
The total economic impact in North Dakota for 2017 was estimated at about $1.15 billion. These figures illustrate how devastating a base closure would be for our economy.
This session will be fast-paced as always, but I ask that you call your state senators and representatives urging them to vote in favor of this bill. This is another opportunity to support those who serve.
Scott Meyer is a Republican state senator for District 18 in Grand Forks.