Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC officials joined a near-capacity crowd at the Broadmoor World Arena for President Donald Trump’s Feb. 20 re-election campaign rally, handing out red T-shirts branded with the message “#usspaceCOm.”
That hashtag, part of a large-scale public relations effort launched Feb. 18 by the chamber, was meant to drive home the message that the U.S. Space Command belongs in Colorado Springs — permanently.
It’s a message that has been embraced by the likes of Minor League Baseball’s Rocky Mountain Vibes, which used its official Twitter feed to express support for keeping the Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, where it has been temporarily headquartered since last August.
“Our state has a proud military legacy with aerospace assets that make Colorado the best choice for [the U.S. Space Command],” the Feb. 18 tweet read. “With Gen. Raymond and [Peterson] stationed in COS, we are more than ready to host #usspaceCOm permanently.”
Despite speculation that Trump would use his campaign stop to formally announce Colorado Springs as the mission’s permanent home, the president offered no such decision, saying only that Olympic City USA was being “strongly considered.”
“I’ll be making that decision by the end of the year,” Trump said during the rally.
In the meantime, the chamber is taking its efforts, which began in 2018, to the next level with a $350,000 national campaign called “Secure Space Command.”
The endeavor hasn’t only caught on locally. Organizations such as the Metro Denver EDC, the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade have joined forces with the Pikes Peak-area business community to promote Colorado Springs as the ideal location for the U.S. Space Command.
“There are no losers if [the Space Command headquarters] stays here in Colorado Springs,” said Reggie Ash, chief defense development officer for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC. “It is the best thing for the mission, and for the service members and their families who don’t want to be uprooted.
“From a return on investment standpoint, from the viewpoint of the service members and the commanders who are trying to ensure that their mission gets done in the most effective way — there are absolutely no losers if it stays here in Colorado.”
The Centennial State’s chances of landing the Space Command permanently are better than most, as four of the six finalists announced by the Pentagon last August are in Colorado. Those include the Springs’ Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Air Station, along with Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.
Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal and California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base round out the list.
By late 2019, however, the Air Force announced it was reopening the base selection process, according to an article published Feb. 19 in SpaceNews magazine.
Officials from other states including Florida and Texas have lobbied the Trump administration to have their bases considered as well, SpaceNews reported.
“When the Air Force date of selection passed, it became clear that it was more of a political decision that rested with the president,” Ash said.
The decision was originally due last summer, and the delay has gone unexplained by the Pentagon. In the past, the White House has not been involved in military basing decisions, leaving those up to the Pentagon.
Nevertheless, Ash said, the chamber has garnered both community and statewide support, and he and others are doing everything in their power to ensure the decision-makers in Washington, D.C., are fully aware of all Colorado has to offer.
“If this is a merit-based decision, I think Colorado Springs will win,” Mayor John Suthers said. “If it’s a political decision, I don’t know, but I feel very confident that if the decision is merit-based, Colorado Springs will be the home of the Space Force.”
Central to the argument for keeping the command in Colorado are the billions of dollars in infrastructure and the large aerospace workforce that already reside in the state, Ash said. Keeping the command in Colorado Springs is the most effective, least risky and least expensive option, Ash said, as moving the headquarters would take several years and “hundreds of millions of dollars” to rebuild the necessary infrastructure.
“From a preparation standpoint, trust me — we are way above,” Suthers said. “We’re certainly better prepared than any other city in America because we’ve been housing it all these years. We’ve already got a great deal of the infrastructure, and a lot of the folks that would be involved in the management of it are already living here. As a matter of preparation, I think we’re already discussing with Peterson ways in which we could help them expand their mission space if necessary.”
The presence of the U.S. Space Command would mean not only the addition of 1,500 highly skilled employees, but a military construction project approaching $1 billion, Ash said.
In addition, “unified combatant headquarters like this are typically magnets for industry,” he said.
“Our federal [Department of Defense] budgets are more and more oriented to space,” Suthers said. “If we’re the home of Space Command, we have every reason to believe that will include a significant amount of military infrastructure and significant defense contracting.”
Those impacts will reverberate across a state that already boasts the nation’s second-largest aerospace economy, second only to California, said Vicky Lea, director of aerospace and aviation at the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation.
“When it comes to the U.S. Space Command, obviously it’s of critical importance to Colorado Springs, but it’s critically important to our ecosystem that we retain that asset here,” Lea said. “So many of these space businesses work with those prime contractors. … Having the U.S. Space Command is very important to retain those companies that are there already, but also to continue to fulfill the growth.”
Colorado has 280 companies that are classified as pure aerospace, with more than 500 companies supporting the aerospace industry, Lea said.
Nearly 65 percent of those companies have 10 or fewer employees, Lea said.
“Obviously the prime contractors are big drivers of employment, but we have this wealth of smaller entrepreneurial aerospace companies and they’re very important pieces too,” she said. “When you have a space command or military asset, it’s not just the story of the big prime contractors clustering around it. It’s those smaller entrepreneurial companies that also feed into it that are very valuable to our economy overall.”
Colorado’s aerospace story has been so successful due to what Lea called “a critical mass” of military assets, as well as education assets and federally funded research labs and centers. Nine of the nation’s top aerospace contractors already have significant operations in the state, according to the Colorado Space Coalition.
“All of those speak to this very competitive position for Colorado to be in in terms of talent and innovation,” Lea said. “Aside from the fact that the functions and the talent is already here, it’s that access to and connectivity with the broader aerospace ecosystem and talent that Colorado really has in relation to other states.
“Time and time again, it is our talented workforce that wins out for us,” Lea added. “The infrastructure that we have here, the immediate proximity to this robust cluster of aerospace companies, but also research institutions, our universities, and the number of those smaller companies too — we’ve got that innovative strand to our workforce with those companies as well. I think more and more, people are looking at talent and innovation as drivers of success for that type of command.”
While losing the Space Command would not mean the state’s aerospace economy ceased to thrive, the impacts would not go unnoticed, Lea said.
“Our aerospace economy has a unique mix of civil and military, and the military space side of things is a very important ingredient in that aerospace mix,” she said. “I don’t think it would devastate our aerospace economy, but it would be pretty severe impacts in terms of our ability to attract new companies in that sphere.”