Washington, D.C. — From infrastructure funding to defense to cybersecurity, participants of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC’s annual Washington, D.C., Fly-In last week had the opportunity to discuss the region’s most pressing issues with experts based in the nation’s capital.

Topics specific to the Pikes Peak region included the widening of Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock, water contamination, long-range transit plans, Base Realignment and Closure options, and workplace skills training.

Regarding water contamination, Rachel Beck, government affairs manager at the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, said her infrastructure group learned from the Environmental Protection Agency possible ways to expedite the cleanup of contaminated water caused by military firefighting foam in and around Fountain.

“We talked about a couple different grant options,” Beck said. “There are cleanup grants and another possibility was subdividing the site to maximize dollars.”

The group also talked about speeding up the National Environmental Policy Act process, which includes environmental assessments that can be “time-consuming and labor-intensive,” she said.

“Beginning work, depending on the level of the process, can take years,” she said, adding the administration is implementing a six-month window for environmental reviews and is cutting environmental assessments by thousands of pages.

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“Streamlining all those has the potential to save a significant amount of time and money,” she said, noting that the Colorado Department of Transportation implemented a similar system to expedite the environmental assessment of I-25 in southern Douglas County.

‘The golden thread’

The Fly-In’s military track included a day at the Pentagon and discussions on Capitol Hill with a representative from the House Armed Forces Committee.

According to Chamber & EDC Chief Defense Development Officer Rich Burchfield, Department of Defense leadership is waiting to see how a base-closure defense bill from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) plays out. The bill could establish a new BRAC commission to review all military installations.

“The legislation would require a list of potential base closures and realignments to be compiled by the Pentagon, certified by the president and then submitted to Congress by the fall of 2019,” according to thehill.com. “Congress would vote on passing the BRAC after a 60-day public comment period, and base closures would start by 2021.”

Burchfield said the military team learned “what we need to do as a community to rally support” behind the installations in the region.

Burchfield pointed to a yet-to-be-published national military strategy document that outlines mission sets at different installations.

“We’d be smart, when that’s published, to know how our installations link to those [missions] and how our community can support those — knowing we’re linking to direct requirements,” he said.

The experts the team spoke with, Burchfield said, “all recognized what a great relationship the community has here with our military installations. There’s a true sense of community. That’s the golden thread.”

‘Robust and growing’

The cybersecurity team was led by Mark Seglem, head of Colorado Technical University in Colorado, and he was joined by City Councilor Tom Strand, El Paso County Commissioner Stan VanderWerf and Valerie Martin Conley, dean of the College of Education at UCCS. The group visited the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence & National Institute of Standards and Technology in Rockville, Md., before traveling to Arlington, Va., for a discussion with representatives from the Department of Homeland Security.

Kevin Stine, applied cybersecurity division chief at NIST, provided an overview of the NCCoE’s mission and capabilities.

“Broadly speaking, our mission is to develop and apply standards, guides and practices and bring in measurement science to help organizations manage cybersecurity risks in the context of their missions and business objectives,” Stine told the group. “Whether you’re a federal agency, state or local government, academic institution or a business of any shape or size in any industry, you likely have some technology with some sort of cybersecurity risk or consideration to make.”

The center, through an annual $17 million appropriation, allows collaboration between sectors to address cybersecurity issues in business. The public-private partnership is meant to enable practical cybersecurity solutions for specific industries, including finance, health care and energy.

Following a tour of the NCCoE, members of the cybersecurity track made comparisons to the fledgling National Cybersecurity Center in Colorado Springs.

Seglem pointed out that, while the NCCoE works with businesses to find cybersecurity solutions, the organization differs from its counterpart in Colorado Springs in that it is less involved in the educational aspects of cybersecurity.

While at the Department of Homeland Security, the cyber team discussed information sharing, assessments and educational support offered through the department.

DHS shares intelligence products to protect networks within the private sector, as well as state, local and tribal entities.

DHS also offers assessments to small and mid-sized businesses for free via a question-based web tool (cyber resilience reviews) that provides a report on cybersecurity capabilities and exposes gaps. Cybersecurity advisers can administer the review for free.

“We have a great cyber community in Colorado Springs with more than 100 [affiliated] companies,” VanderWerf said. “It’s a robust and growing new industry. I’m looking forward to the success of the National Cybersecurity Center and am very hopeful they’ll provide many outstanding services on the commercial side for cyber protection,” he said.

The middle skills

The economic development team, which consisted in part of Mayor John Suthers, Chamber & EDC President and CEO Dirk Draper, and Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Doug Price, held meetings at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Businesses, the National Skill Coalition and the House Ways & Means Committee.

The discussion at the NSC revolved around workforce development.

Katie Spiker, a federal policy analyst with the NSC, which works to advance Washington-based policy efforts through federal legislation, national funding initiatives and agency regulation, provided the group with statistics specific to Colorado. In 2015, 50 percent of all jobs in the state fell within the middle-skill category, those occupations requiring more than a high school diploma, but not a four-year degree.

Spiker said the demand for middle-skill jobs will remain strong during the next eight years, and added that middle-skills job openings will make up 45 percent of the state’s total workforce needs. NSC data also indicates that while 50 percent of Colorado jobs required middle-skill training in 2015, only 40 percent of the state’s workers are properly trained.

“We work with community colleges, workforce boards, community-based organizations and, stemming out of those conversations, there wasn’t really a voice in D.C. for a lot of the small and medium-sized businesses we were working with,” she said.

As that voice, the NSC is involved with several federal policy issues, including advocating for work-based learning and apprenticeships.

Spiker said the NSC is also tracking a possible infrastructure package from the current administration and has proposed that any package should include funding earmarked for training.

“We have a broad approach to infrastructure, so that could be anything from IT to surface construction — really broadly, utilities and anything else that could fit into infrastructure,” she said.

‘The long game’

In all, group leaders said the annual trek to D.C. was a success.

“I had a really great group on my track,” Beck said of the infrastructure team, which included City Councilor Jill Gaebler and El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller. “They knew their stuff and were focused on learning as much as possible from the experts and on being an advocate for the region both in the short-term and long-term.

“Policy at the federal level is the long game,” she continued. “It’s about building those long-term relationships so when there’s an opportunity to advocate for ourselves, we know who to go to for help and they’re familiar with our challenges and needs.”

Having access to high-ranking officials was remarkable, she said.

“We talked philosophically, about where the rubber meets the road and everywhere in between,” Beck said. “Also, it’s funny how sometimes it takes leaving town to form deeper relationships with the people you work with every day. It was nice to do that with such a broad and diverse group of professionals. A lot of people I met on this trip for the first time, and now I understand what they do and what they’re advocating for.”