The sprawling facility that houses the National Cybersecurity Center, Space ISAC and Exponential Impact is set for a huge injection of cash and a 31,000-square-foot buildout, thanks to a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant of almost $3 million.
UCCS and the NCC developed the proposal together (with UCCS as the lead) in December, and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the $2.75 million grant April 28. Construction should be underway by January 2021.
The EDA grant required $2.75 million in local matching funds. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, it’s expected to create 360 jobs and attract more than $9.3 million in private investment.
The planned development within the North Nevada Avenue cybersecurity building includes offices and classrooms, along with a Cyber Vulnerability Lab and a Watch Center that will be part of the Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center.
Space ISAC, the nation’s only space-dedicated information sharing and analysis center, is based at the NCC.
NCC CEO Vance Brown said the matching $2.75 million has already been committed, and the total $5.5 million injection “puts a stake in the ground” for Colorado Springs’ cyber reputation.
“It’s a huge win,” Brown said.
“For Colorado Springs, the cybersecurity ecosystem has now grown,” he added. “We had a dream of UCCS and industry, government, education being all together in a common building.
“For UCCS to actually be able to have some of their faculty there in the building doing classes — think of the collaboration and serendipitous communication going on, and now having the space to do more intentional things. With that momentum, I think we’re over that tipping point of that building being a true cyber center.”
UCCS Senior Director of Development Thomas Dewar, who led the grant effort, described the process as a “wonderful” community partnership.
“This expansion would not have been possible without this EDA grant — but more than that, this was very much a community-driven effort,” Dewar said. “The EDA grant requires a $1-for-$1 match. So the $2.75 million — we had to match that before we could apply. It’s sort of ‘backwards fundraising.’”
The matching $2.75 million was secured from El Pomar Foundation, The Anschutz Foundation and the Lane Foundation.
“The other restriction of this grant was we had to go out to the community and say, ‘Do you want that? Is increasing the number of cybersecurity students important to you?’” Dewar said.
“The answer was a resounding ‘Yes’ — to the point that there were companies who felt so strongly about this, they wrote letters of intent that they intend to grow their cyber positions and they intend to turn to UCCS to fill those positions. It was a whole community coming together around this.
“We were able to go back to the EDA and say, ‘If you’ll give us this grant, we’ll have the capacity to take on many more students and answer much more of the demand for cybersecurity professionals.’
“We have about 700 students right now in computer science, which incorporates cybersecurity, and we expect that will grow to about 1,000 in two to three years — and ramp up from there.”
“We don’t see an end to the demand for cybersecurity professionals,” Dewar said. “It seems to be growing far more quickly than the capacity to fill those jobs here in the United States or even worldwide.”
Along with building out the cybersecurity facility, UCCS will grow its cybersecurity faculty as well as degree and certificate programs, Dewar said.
“Cybersecurity will have its own stand-alone home where we can really focus on it,” he said.
“This whole building will be all things cybersecurity. And the really neat thing is when UCCS makes partnerships — like with the NCC and XI — that partner can only be under the roof of that building if our students can learn from those partners. So our UCCS students will be able to observe the work being done there, or be interns. … It’ll broaden their cyber experiences even before they go for their first job.”
Gretchen Bliss became UCCS’ new director of cybersecurity April 1, and will coordinate activities with the NCC, Space ISAC, K-12 outreach, community organizations and partners.
Formerly cybersecurity director at Pikes Peak Community College, Bliss “has an amazing military and cybersecurity education background,” Dewar said, “and we are thrilled to have her in our lead cybersecurity organization role.”
Bliss developed PPCC’s cybersecurity program and successfully led the effort to earn its designation as a Center of Academic Excellence for a two-year institution. She spent 11 years with the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, starting as a deputy senior intelligence analyst and eventually departing as deputy division chief of mission services.
Bliss said the grant brings “great opportunities for cybersecurity across the ecosystem.”
“The new space will foster more extensive research, industry collaboration and ecosystem development,” she said. “UCCS and NCC have been really exploring ways to expand the role of Colorado cybersecurity efforts in state and national efforts.
“This building and its advanced capabilities will be key in finding specific efforts to partner with industry, government and DoD and to bring the level of cybersecurity education for UCCS students to a much higher level.”
She said UCCS should be able to continue with the planning portion of the project without impacts from COVID-19, adding, “building [is] not set to begin until later in the year so it is unclear how it may be impacted.”
Dewar said construction should start no later than January 1, 2021, “and the big hope is that the space is ready for students and faculty to occupy by August 15 .
“Construction can get goofy sometimes, so worst case is December 31, 2021, so we’d be ready for spring semester of ,” he said. “But what we’re really shooting for is fall semester of 2021.”
The UCCS cybersecurity building totals 132,000 square feet. The scheduled buildout is just over 31,000 square feet, comprising 24,000 square feet of traditional classrooms, labs, study hall, and conference rooms, and 7,000 square feet for Space ISAC.
In the north end of the building, classrooms, labs and faculty offices will be finished first, to match spring semester timing.
Space ISAC construction — alongside the NCC and XI in the south end of the building — will follow as quickly as possible, “but that’s not bound by something like school having to start on a certain date,” Dewar said.
Brown said the buildout is a game changer for Space ISAC, which so far counts Kratos, Booz Allen Hamilton, Northrop Grumman, MITRE, SES, Johns Hopkins APL, Lockheed Martin, Purdue University and Parsons Corporation among its founding members.
“Wow… to have those caliber of companies participating in a watch center and vulnerability lab right there in that building in Colorado Springs — they’ll have representatives here as part of that — this changes things, absolutely,” Brown said. “This establishes a permanent home for the activities that we’re doing as far as Space ISAC.”
The expansion will be a major boost to cybersecurity collaboration in Colorado Springs, Brown said.
“Think about it: We’ve got Ph.D. cyber professionals hanging out with the NCC and all the intern programs we’re doing — and our accelerator/incubator,” he said. “There’ll be more and more intentional things that we’ll do now that we have space to do them in, but even the serendipitous communication now can be exponential in terms of ideas and collaboration. Having people there now together is very exciting.”
The goal, Brown said, has always been to build an ecosystem: UCCS leading the way with education, the NCC building public-private partnerships, and XI bringing innovative technologies to the region.
“Now all of us will be able to do more classroom training, education and workforce development in that … space,” he said. “That is a huge addition.”
Brown said the COVID-19 pandemic has brought “a lot of bad news,” but even during the crisis, the NCC has continued to grow and hire, with staff numbers reaching 14.
“Everybody’s impacted by [the pandemic], but to see that we’ve actually even expanded and have now committed to building out that much more of the building is great news for us and Colorado Springs and the state and the nation,” he said. “This is happening.”
“This project will allow the University of Colorado to make upgrades to its cybersecurity center to allow new companies in the cybersecurity industry to grow and diversify the Colorado Springs economy,” said Dana Gartzke, appointed by Secretary Ross as head of the bureau, performing the delegated duties of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. “The project’s location in an Opportunity Zone will attract additional businesses in an area of the state that needs it most.”
Colorado has 126 Opportunity Zones, which were created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 in an effort to spur development in economically distressed communities nationwide.
In June 2019 the EDA designated Opportunity Zones an investment priority, increasing the number of Opportunity Zone-related projects it can fund.