From Ohio Business Growth Guide 2024

State of Service

Revering its heroes, Ohio bolsters a legacy built on national defense.

Veterans Memorial in Gallia County, Ohio.
Photo courtesy of Ohio Dept. of Veterans Services

by Gary Daughters

magine a Hall of Fame whose members would include such spectacular and far-flung luminaries as former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn, President Ulysses S. Grant, the acclaimed actors Clark Gable and Paul Newman, lunar pioneer Neil Armstrong, baseball’s Bob Feller and Woody Hayes, the legendary former head football coach at The Ohio State University. In truth, such a Hall does exist. It’s The Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, and one of its newest members is Vietnam veteran John Looker of Mason. Looker was inducted along with 19 other service members in a ceremony last November.

“I was just really surprised to have been selected,” Looker says with Midwest modesty. “I got up there and saw the others and all they had done for veterans and their country, and it was just amazing to be among this group.”

Ohio CC 24 Military HOF Induction Ohio CC 24 Military HOF Induction.
Photo courtesy of Ohio Dept. of Veterans Services

Ohio Miitary CC 24 Hall of Fame Inductee LookerJohn Looker was inducted in November into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.
Photo courtesy of Ohio Dept. of Veterans Services

Fresh out of high school and assigned to the Army’s First Cavalry, 19-year old Looker spent a thunderous first night in Vietnam after enemy troops, he vividly recalls, hit an ammunition dump at Cam Rahn Bay. He had survived some 200 firefights when, in March of ‘69, Looker’s unit and a companion force — 52 soldiers in all — found themselves surrounded by hundreds of Viet Cong. Eleven Americans died in battle that night, including a soldier named Tom who’d taken cover next to Looker in a ravine. Looker himself was one of 38 wounded and nearly bled out from a bullet to his shoulder.

“By the time they got me to the field hospital,” he remembers, “they told me I had about 15 minutes to live.”

He can talk about it all now, but for too long Looker kept it bottled up inside. Returning home to Ohio, he sank into substance abuse and lost his wife and daughter, with whom he wouldn’t reconcile for another 20 years. It was around that time that Looker summoned the courage to begin to share his story, and he’s been doing so ever since. At age 76 and married to his second wife Cathy for 53 years, Looker still addresses veterans’ groups about PTSD and does counseling one-on-one.

“When I got back, you didn’t have the things we have now and the people that understood what you’ve been through,” he says. Among his many associations, Looker has served in leadership positions in the Warren County Suicide Prevention Coalition, the Commanders Action Network for the Disabled Veterans of America and the City of Mason’s Veterans Board of Affairs. He’s led efforts to build and refurbish Mason’s veterans memorials and established its Military Banners Program, through which Mason is graced each May and November with colorful flags to honor its veterans.

“John,” his Hall of Fame citation reads, “has dedicated his life to bettering his nation, his community and the lives of his veteran peers. John’s spirit of generosity and commitment is recognized by his local community, but his efforts impact and extend to others far beyond his city.”

Leveraging the Legacy
As the home of the Wright Brothers, Ohio’s deep roots in aviation represent but one anchor — albeit a weighty one — of the state’s continuing contribution to the national defense. With more than 110,000 military and federal personnel and private sector contractors, Ohio’s military and federal sector has grown to support some 380,500 direct, indirect and induced jobs statewide, according to an exhaustive report commissioned by JobsOhio. The report found that Ohio’s vast array of federal and military installations delivers nearly $40 billion in gross regional product and supports an industrial base that represents a hefty $69 billion in total economic activity, accounting for nearly 6% of the state’s economy.

As just the latest and greatest example of how that translates, California’s Joby Aviation cites the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as one of the reasons it chose Dayton as the site of a $477,500 facility to manufacture its all-electric, vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) air taxi. The Joby Aviation project will draw upon the Dayton region’s deep bench of aerospace talent to fill a projected 2,000 jobs; more than 30,000 employees work at “Wright-Patt.”

“Ohio,” said Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, “has a long history in aviation, and we’re proud to bring the next chapter of that story to life in the place where it started.”

NASA Glenn’s Unique Capabilities
Named for the first American to orbit the Earth, NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland designs, develops and tests technologies connected to air travel and space exploration. One of 10 such NASA research centers, and the only one in the Midwest, NASA Glenn is a vital contributor to the region’s economy. According to a study by Cleveland State University, the Center’s impact in Ohio reaches nearly $2 billion annually, including the 9,000 jobs it is estimated to support. More than 3,200 scientists, engineers, technicians and support personnel work within the 307-acre complex, which includes vacuum chambers, wind tunnels, drop towers and a cavernous hangar.

The Neil Armstrong Test Facility, a subset of NASA Glenn with capabilities unique to the space program, sprawls across 6,400 acres in Sandusky, about 50 miles west of Cleveland. At Armstrong’s Plum Brook Station, which can simulate the space environment, NASA is testing the Orion spacecraft, part of the space agency’s Artemis mission to return Americans to the moon and beyond. Orion has undergone five tests at Armstong in temperatures as low as -300 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure it can withstand the harsh realities outside the bonds of Earth.

Gary Daughters
Senior Editor

Gary Daughters

Gary Daughters is a Peabody Award winning journalist who began with Site Selection in 2016. Gary has worked as a writer and producer for CNN covering US politics and international affairs. His work has included lengthy stints in Washington, DC and western Europe. Gary is a 1981 graduate of the University of Georgia, where he majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. He lives in Atlanta with his teenage daughter, and in his spare time plays guitar, teaches golf and mentors young people.


Ohio's competitive business climate, location, workforce and quality of life make the Buckeye State the right place for business.

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