YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz. — For nearly 80 years, U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground has tested virtually every piece of equipment in the ground combat arsenal.
The impact of YPG’s vital work towards the safety and effectiveness of America’s Soldiers and Marines is widely known, but what about the economic impact on the Yuma community?
The most recent comprehensive study of all of Arizona’s military installations was released by the Maguire Company in November 2017. According to this study, commissioned by the State of Arizona, YPG’s annual direct, indirect, and induced economic impact is in excess of $1.1. billion annually. Of the nearly $700 million in direct annual impact, nearly $250 million was the product of wages paid to the more than 2,000 civilians who work here.
While impressive, these numbers were compiled prior to the creation of the Army Futures Command in 2018. Since then, YPG has actively supported six of AFC’s cross functional teams building the Army's future force, which seeks to retain overmatch with near-peer adversaries in a high intensity conflict. In the summer of 2020, YPG’s hosting of Project Convergence, the Army’s largest capabilities demonstration of the year, brought in well over 900 visiting support personnel for as long as six weeks. The 2021 iteration of Project Convergence promises to be even larger.
Yuma’s community leaders understand the tremendous positive economic and social impact YPG’s presence has on the local area, and support the post accordingly.
“YPG’s economic impact has a profound impact on our community through our sales tax dollars, housing, gas tax dollars, and the hospitality sector,” said Julie Engel, director of the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation. “YPG’s impact touches every one of those things.”
Most military installations receive base funding dollars through military appropriations. Yuma Proving Ground, on the other hand, receives funding through a combination of Army appropriated dollars and test customer reimbursement. Yuma Proving Ground’s customers come from other parts of the military and other government agencies, private industry, and friendly foreign nations.
Despite the pandemic, YPG continued its test and evaluation mission with a diversified workload that consisted of virtually every piece of equipment a Soldier or Marine is likely to use, along with significant effort towards testing the most cutting-edge equipment for Army modernization efforts.
“We never stopped working during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Larry Bracamonte, YPG Technical Director. “YPG was always open and able to execute its mission.”
The feat was accomplished while scrupulously maintaining the safety and test quality standards that are YPG hallmarks, be it in the desert ranges of Yuma, the frozen arctic of Alaska or tropical locales on leased land in central and South America. In addition to its normal workload, the transient support personnel from Project Convergence 20 stayed in local hotels, rented cars locally, and patronized local restaurants and stores, all of which was a boon to the local economy.
“It put Yuma in a much better position to weather the COVID storm than we would have otherwise had,” said Kim Kahl, director of the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce.
The economic uncertainty that followed in the wake of the pandemic underscored how vital the military, second only to agriculture in terms of economic impact, is to the region: and how acutely it would be missed if it ever went away.
“Diminished isn’t a strong enough word,” said Kahl. “We would be damaged.”
“The ripple effect of losing so many civilian jobs would be devastating,” agreed Engel. “YPG is base industry. For every one base industry job YPG has, there are five support jobs created. If we lose one base industry job, we will lose five other jobs: multiply that by 2,000 and that is pretty significant.”
YPG’s economic impact is also felt indirectly in such things as the presence of the General Motors Desert Proving Ground, which entered a long-term lease with the post in 2009 that will last until at least 2059. General Motors relocated to YPG’s ranges after their once-rural facility in Mesa, Arizona was surrounded by urban sprawl that allowed their competitors to surreptitiously photograph vehicles under test from houses built adjacent to their test track.
“If YPG wasn’t there, General Motors wouldn’t be there,” said Engel. “YPG was the catalyst behind that industry sector that chose Yuma.”
Agriculture, the military, and tourism make up the three legs of Yuma County’s economy. Yuma’s impact on the future Army force is immense, and likewise its local economic impact.
“I can’t stress enough how much our economic viability relies on the military here,” said Kahl. “Our businesses can’t survive here without the military bases and the jobs that they provide and other things they provide in terms of economic opportunity."