Off we go into the wild blue yonder

By: Steve Sunday February 10, 2013 0 comments Tags: Ball Aerospace, Brookings report, CSU, CU-Boulder, DigitalGlobe, Dream Chaser, HB13-1001, Lockheed Martin, Numerica, Scion Aviation, Sierra Nevada

Colorado is approaching the launch pad for an expanding mission into space that could someday eclipse California as the No. 1 aerospace state, according to the Brookings Institution and space industry supporters like Gov. John Hickenlooper.

On Feb. 5, Hickenlooper gave the keynote address to a standing-room-only gathering of aerospace company owners, government and economic development officials and those with an interest in seeing the state's aerospace industry fly even higher.

Hickenlooper said the state is well-positioned to take the lead as the No. 1 state in terms of aerospace industry jobs and economic development benefits.

"It's not impossible to imagine that over the next decade we could easily become the best," Hickenlooper said. "We do have the entire arc of aerospace industry in Colorado."

That extends from Colorado's longstanding relationship with its military installations to its newest and most exciting new aerospace industries, such as Sierra Nevada's Louisville-based Space Systems facilities, where the company is working to bring its Dream Chaser spacecraft to fruition.

Other companies - including Ball Aerospace, DigitalGlobe,  Lockheed Martin, Scion Aviation and Numerica - are also making huge inroads into space and space-related technology.

The Brookings report, "Launch! Taking Colorado's Space Economy to the Next Level," highlights the state's already impressive aerospace assets and points out the challenges to be overcome to take the expanding industry cluster even higher.

Already, Colorado's aerospace cluster of private companies, military installations and major research universities is annually pumping billions into the state's economy and directly employing more than 66,000 people.

The report notes that jobs created by the aerospace industry pay about double the private sector average of $49,000. And during the recession of 2008-2011, aerospace companies added about 3,500 new jobs while the rest of the state's economy was losing workers.

But while the report notes some aerospace markets like cyber security and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are projected to double in the next decade - good news for those Colorado companies -- other not-so-good, fundamental changes are occurring.

Federal government spending is flatlining with cutbacks in NASA, with a shift to commercial space-based markets that must be much more entrepreneurial and collaborative.

And, the report notes, there is a looming skills gap as the current aerospace workforce ages and begins retiring, putting an accent on innovation and new skill sets.

How does Colorado keep developing its aerospace momentum and "become the center of innovation for the global space economy," as the Brookings report says it can do?

The report offers these strategies and actions:

  • Commit to innovation and owning the next great space technologies

  • Facilitate the availability of risk capital for small and medium-size entrepreneurial firms

  • Bolster the workforce pipeline to secure the state's human capital advantage

  • Intensify cluster dynamics with more collaboration and a space cluster champion


It won't be easy in a state with limited funding incentives compared to a California or Texas or Florida.

But with the established assets the state has built up, strong university space-related programs at Colorado University-Boulder and Colorado State University, potential state funding through House Bill 13-1001 and a growing spirit of collaboration in the public and private sectors, we may be on our way to making that ambitious goal a reality.



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