Given these months of bad news, the past several days could have been worse.
In fact, recent defense news in the Pikes Peak region has been pretty darn good.
For the win: Peterson Air Force Base will be home to the U.S. Space Command for at least the next six years.
“This is great news for our state and I will continue urging the President and the Air Force to make Colorado the permanent home of U.S. Space Command,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a news release.
Mayor John Suthers said there’s “no question Colorado Springs is the most appropriate location for Space Command” — and he’s right.
The city has the military and higher-ed depth (conveniently, the Air Force Academy has both) and the necessary industries to launch and maintain the nation’s newest defense arm.
And while many economists and public servants tout the importance of diversification, during a downturn such as this, a vast number of locals won’t have to worry about a paycheck in the short term thanks to Uncle Sam’s outsize presence in southern Colorado. Colorado Springs is far more recession-resistant than many of its similarly sized counterparts.
The local Front Range military presence equates to about 60,000 jobs and accounts for $6 billion generated for state and local economies.
And while many are facing pay cuts, furloughs or total loss of employment, active duty personnel got a raise just before the coronavirus devastated the global economy. Congress approved a 3.1 percent pay increase across the board for military members in 2020 — the largest increase in a decade — and it kicked in Jan. 1.
Another win: In April, in the throes of this pandemic economy, defense contractor L3Harris won a $23 million contract for Space Force and immediately announced it was looking to hire around 100 new employees in Colorado Springs.
The bulk of the new hires will be software and systems engineers, L3Harris told the Business Journal.
Their estimated contract value with the U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center is $1.2 billion over 10 years.
More good news: The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act has allocated $148 million to Schriever Air Force Base to begin construction on a Combined Space Operations Facility.
After the bill passed by a vote of 377-48, Congressman Doug Lamborn said Schriever will serve as the “beating heart [of] our nation’s space warfighting enterprise.
“With U.S. Space Command established in Colorado Springs earlier this year, and the bulk of the Space Force personnel currently serving on Peterson and Schriever Air Force bases,” he added, “this … solidifies our community’s position as the premier defense space community of the United States.”
And the announcement could be a lifeline for Colorado Springs Airport, which has seen enplanements plummet since March. Its director of aviation, Greg Phillips, said in January, “As we look forward, the Space Force looks like it’s going to be a reality. Space [Force] has a temporary home at Peterson. Is that going to be a permanent home? Because if it’s going to be a permanent home, we fully expect there will be construction and development needs on Peterson, and possibly Schriever as well.
“I can tell you we’ve had conversations with them and I know the engineering staff on Peterson is trying to think ahead and trying to plan for what could happen so they’re ready for it. With that … I would imagine we would see some considerable development there and potential additional utilization of the airport.”
Now the job of local leadership, industry, higher education and the community as a whole is to extend that six-year lease to a permanent one. Those sectors must weather the current storm and demonstrate that the city, county and region can work together in times of crisis — and beyond.
We’re not out of the woods when it comes to permanently landing our nation’s newest military branch. But it’s clear that, during times like these, we could use the Force.