A new emphasis on the aerospace industry

Colorado Springs’ economic development officials are stepping up efforts to recruit aerospace companies to the region.

And if they have to elbow Denver out of the way to do it, that’s fine, too.

Aerospace already has a huge presence in the Springs; it represents 40 percent of the region’s economy. Both the Economic Development Corp. and the Chamber of Commerce are going after an even larger share of the market.

“Colorado Springs has many, many more jobs in aerospace and homeland defense than Denver,” said David White, executive vice president of marketing. “But they have many times the marketing money that we do.”

The effort follows a consultant’s recommendation last fall that the region do more to try to lure companies in these industries.

White estimates the EDC spends between $30,000 and $40,000 a year to market Colorado Springs to aerospace companies — and that Denver probably spends four or five times that amount to entice those same companies to the Mile High City.

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The EDC isn’t going to let the lack of money stop it from trying to gain the attention of the people who matter.

It has formed an industry target group with members of the aerospace community. The group will work to identify growth trends within the industry, and serve as a resource for leads and a welcoming committee for visiting companies.

White said the EDC also is planning to highlight aerospace and homeland defense on its Web site, creating a more visible place for interested companies to find information.

The EDC and the chamber are both members of the Colorado Space Coalition, an effort paid for by the Denver Chamber of Commerce and Denver Metro EDC. That marketing plan tends to focus most on Denver and Boulder — with only a few mentions of the Springs.

On its Web site, the group lists all companies in Colorado with aerospace missions, but the Springs’ mentions are limited to the military bases.

There is nothing on the site to indicate the Springs’ vibrant space industry — no mention that companies here are monitoring NASA’s deep-space equipment, no mention that the city is home to the state’s only Procurement Technical Assistance Center, a place that companies can go to get help in applying for government contracts.

That’s why the local EDC and chamber are launching their own effort, said Debbie Chandler, CEO of Colorado Springs Health Partners and a member of the EDC board of directors.

Chandler said she thinks the Springs should be able to improve its record in drawing aerospace activity.

“I don’t know why we aren’t getting more of these companies,” she said. “There is no reason those companies shouldn’t be coming here. I just don’t understand it.”

She blamed the lack of an international airport, coupled with concerns about traversing the state in bad weather.

“There’s something about the Palmer Divide,” she said. “People look at that and wonder if they can make winter flights in Denver.”

White said a lack of branding and the lack of marketing money are to blame.

“We really need a brand,” he said. “We need to be the city for homeland defense, the city for aerospace. We don’t have that branding now; we really don’t have any branding, and that makes a big difference.”

White said the city does have several attributes: it’s a much less expensive place to live than, say, Washington, D.C., California or Massachusetts — places where large aerospace companies tend to be located. The city’s four military bases and its educated work force are two other big draws, he said.

Elliot Pulham, executive director of the Space Foundation, said it makes sense for the EDC and chamber to focus on aerospace.

“If I were an economic developer, it’s where I would look,” said Pulham. “The industry has higher than average wages, higher than average education.”

Starting Monday, economic development officials will have one of their best opportunities of the year to market Colorado Springs when more than 8,000 aerospace professionals and more than 140 companies attend the Space Symposium.

The chamber has a booth at the event, as does the Colorado Space Coalition. EDC officials will help staff both booths. Even Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak, the local convention and visitors’ bureau, has a booth at the symposium. The Colorado Springs airport will also be represented, as well as the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs’ School of Business.

But the job-creation efforts won’t stop with a new Web site or once the symposium closes. The EDC and the chamber are leading an effort to find a full-time lobbyist for Colorado Springs — in another attempt to beat Denver to the punch.

“We have a statewide lobbyist,” Chandler said. “But we don’t have one that concentrates on Colorado Springs. And we should. So many of these companies depend on federal contracts and grants, and we need someone who can keep an eye on those grants in Washington.”

The effort is moving along.

“Colorado Springs is just not on companies’ radars yet,” she said. “But we’re working to change that.”