EDC on mission to retain Space Foundation

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The Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. is launching what it hopes will become a community-wide effort to keep the Space Foundation in the area in response to efforts by other cities to lure it away.

An international nonprofit focused on the space industry, the foundation hosts an annual symposium at The Broadmoor and provides international analysis of space issues. Widely respected in the industry, the foundation is a “crown jewel” for the city, said Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the EDC.

“They’ve been courted by other cities,” he said. “Our mission is to keep primary employers, and we believe the Space Foundation brings more than just jobs to the city; it’s part of our brand.”

The EDC’s push comes at time when the economic development organization has stepped up its efforts to recruit and retain space industry-related jobs.

Housed in an aging building on Colorado Springs’ Westside, the foundation has outgrown its 8,800-square-foot space. Cities such as Omaha, Neb., have offered the foundation free space to relocate, Kazmierski said.

“We just don’t want that to happen,” he said. “So, this month, we’re really going to be looking for community partnerships. Their current space is awful, face it. They deserve really great office space for the work they do.”

The EDC is looking for about office space that would cost $1 million or so. Some locations have been bandied about including the former Intel building, now known as the Corporate Ridge Office and Technology Building on Garden on the Gods Road. But El Paso County is moving into part of the complex, so there might not be adequate or suitable space for the foundation there, Kazmierski said.

The foundation has several options, he said.

“I think we’ll have them in a new building by the end of the year,” he said. “But the city is strapped, the county is strapped. It’s going to take a community effort.”

The city’s deal to retain the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2009 left many people wary of public-private partnerships. The city ended up footing the bill for nearly $33 million for the USOC’s new headquarters on Tejon Street.

Shortly after that deal was made, Elliot Pulham, the executive director of the Space Foundation, said he was being courted to leave the Springs for greener pastures. In response, he asked the business community for help in finding new office space for the foundation.

That was more than two years ago. The city at the time was focused heavily on ensuring the USOC stayed put.

Kazmierski’s office has already played a role in keeping the foundation in the Springs. When the foundation ran out of room for its teacher education program, he facilitated meetings that led to the creation of a new magnet school for space technology in District 11. The Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy now trains teachers across the country — and internationally — in how to incorporate space into their science curricula.

But that hasn’t been enough, Kazmierski said.

“The Space Foundation doesn’t get the respect it deserves here in the Springs,” he said. “It’s grown into an internationally recognized expert on space and the industry. We can’t afford to lose it.”

The foundation was created in Colorado Springs in 1983 to “develop and promote … the practical and theoretical utilization of space.”

As the global space community grew, the Space Foundation’s mission grew as well. It now includes commercial space, telecommunications, satellite-based services, civil and national security.

“What other groups brings 8,000 highly educated, highly trained people to the city every year?” Kazmierski asked, referring to the annual Space Symposium at the Broadmoor. “The economic impact of that single event alone is worth keeping them here, but they do so much more. They lobby Congress, they have offices in D.C. It’s important that they are based here.”

Kazmierski believes the foundation’s move needs to happen quickly.

“Right now, real estate is about as low as it’s going to get,” he said. “We can find them space, quality space, very easily. And with the economy the way it is, the pressure from other cities has slacked a bit. But the economy is going to recover, and other cities are going to want the Space Foundation.”