Meeting held to address impact of Sentinel project

Sidney -- A meeting was held Thursday afternoon of public and private community leaders to discuss preparing for the Sentinel missile upgrading project.

The U.S. Air Force has committed to upgrading the missile defense system, formerly known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), the Air Force’s program to modernize the intercontinental ballistic missile system (ICBM).

According to the Air Force Global Strike Command website, the project is estimated to begin in the mid-2020s and be completed in the mid-2030s. 

Thursday's meeting focused on how communities can prepare for the impact of the Sentinel project.

The meeting included Sidney City Manager David Scott, Sidney Economic Development Director Jeff Klare and Kimball Economic Development Director Melinda Pearson. 

Scott said he came to Sidney in 2017, as the Cabela's-Bass Pro agreement was impacting the city. The housing market went from homes for sale in nearly every block to only a few available city-wide. Additionally, the community went from losing most of the corporate employees to now trying to predict what the Sentinel project could mean for regional growth.

"Who would have thought we would be in this position," he said.

He said the equation is complicated by the low unemployment rate.

Klare said the state's unemployment rate was 2.3 percent Thursday morning.

"We have this carrousel of employees," Scott said. 

He said when a company is looking for a good employee they may "steal" from one company, who then hires away from another.  The challenge is going to be building the labor pool in anticipation of the influx of workers and their families.

Pearson said there will be a base where all or most of the staff will be housed during the project. She said with the exception of special clearance the base will not be accessible by the public. Concerns not yet answered include the impact on the city's infrastructure, services that support the Sentinel project, and possibility of contractors and families remaining in the area after the project is completed.

She said very few people in the Sentinel project will be employed by the Department of Defense.

Questions were also posed about how to market the Panhandle to workers, and developers, encourage housing and infrastructure development.

"This is now a regional game, not a local game," Klare said.

He said a virtual career event is planned.