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Bossier needs flexibility for downscaled Cyber Command

For months we’ve heard excited talk from the local political class about the potential permanent coming of the Air Force’s Cyber Command, a new division of the service that would administratively consolidate functions dealing with cyberwarfare, to join a couple of others at Barksdale Air Force Base. Fueling it has been the establishment of the provisional command there, which in other situations almost always has meant the permanent command locates at that base.

Salivating local boosters on both sides of the river had thrown around figures such as thousands of jobs created and over $100 million in economic impact. In order to land it, local Bossier government has pumped in $50 million, a figure the state has matched plus $7 million, to build the Cyber Innovation Center that would serve as an incubator for businesses connected to the command and this is trumpeted as a shot in the arm of the local economy like none else since … well, Barksdale itself.

But the one thing nobody, at least publicly, seems to be talking about is what if rather than the whole only a part, or even none, of the command’s functions end up at Barksdale?

This is becoming a distinct possibility. A year ago when the Air Force started serious discussion of the matter, things really looked like they were headed in Barksdale’s direction as only a couple of other installations seemed as if they were going to compete or were caught napping concerning the opportunity. Parish interests hoped the matter would be decidedly quickly and they appeared to be the only ones marketing and dangling incentives.

But then the delays came, probably as other national politicians became aware of the potential of the command for local economic development, whether alerted by their local interests, and got more and more applicants to line up to compete so that now over 50 sites are in the running. Frankly, in terms of local intellectual capital, infrastructure, and business environments, some have more, even much more, to bring to the table than Shreveport/Bossier City. And, increasingly obviously, it seems the solution to this dilemma is to do what Congress always does when it has a prize to distribute that isn’t like a Solomonic baby – divide it.

Politicians and those affiliated with the Cyber Innovation Center in a low key manner have been adjusting expectations downwards for Barksdale, already putting the optimistic view of jobs created at around 500 and chirping that they expected, being the nature of cyberspace, that many different locations would end performing functions associated with the command. Hopefully, their strategic planning behind the scenes also has taken this ratcheting down of expectations into account.

The hard question has to be asked – will the reduced level of activity associated with cyber activities make prudent the downscaling of governments’ financial commitments, or any commitment at all? The last thing Bossier and state taxpayers need to pay out for is something akin to Shreveport’s Biomedical Research Foundation, whose slick annual report touts all of sorts of things for the more than $2 million sliced off from local government last year – except for an exact list of number of jobs directly created by the enterprise with $43 million in assets that would not otherwise have appeared in the area which is unlikely to reach triple digits.

Sufficed to say, the economic impact of the BMRF has been insufficient to match the tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars shoveled towards it over the years. The CIC hopes to avoid a similar situation of using the people’s money by government as venture capital because it will not have to attract an entity or more on which to anchor itself. But if too small of a share of the Cyber Command heads this way, it will end up like the BMRF and both local and state taxpayer dollars will be frittered away.

Even though construction already has begun on the permanent home for the CIC, responsible leadership mandates that enough flexibility exists in the planning to downsize the operation if that’s what needs to be done. No such leadership has been offered publicly by Bossier politicians; we only can hope in private they have planned for contingencies so the typical Bossier fascination with using government to try to create economic growth won’t burn the citizenry yet again.

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