Huntsville, Ala., long one of the Springs’ biggest competitors for aerospace and defense industry jobs, is stepping up its push to recruit business and military missions from the Pikes Peak region.
But this time, the Rocket City could face stiffer competition from the Springs.
A coalition of city and business leaders is working to give Peterson Air Force Base a little growing room, in hopes that additional space will lead to additional missions, especially in the growing cyber security world.
Mark Earle, director of the Colorado Springs Regional Airport, which is adjacent to Peterson, is helping lead the effort to set aside more land for Peterson to expand.
The base now occupies 1,278 acres and employs a total of 46,000 people, including 21,000 active duty military personnel, 13,000 civilian contractors and 1,200 reservists.
Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., acknowledged it’s been harder for Colorado Springs to compete against Huntsville because, unlike Huntsville, the Springs has no economic development tax, no financial incentives that it can offer to relocating companies, and no $1 billion business park development
But city leaders have recently been trying to find ways to work around those shortcomings, Kazmierski said, including plans to hire a lobbyist to represent the city in Washington, D.C.
Economic development leaders also have worked to built support from the area’s congressional delegation, something that hasn’t really happened in the past.
“In the past, we’ve only reacted after things happen,” Kazmierski said. “Now, we’re being more proactive. We’re going to work to make things happen.”
The idea of giving Peterson more room surfaced in 2008 but, like other economic development initiatives aimed at presented a more aggressive stance in the hunt for jobs, has been picking up momentum this year.
Huntsville, meanwhile, has increasingly billed itself as a center of business for both the Missile Defense Agency, which is based in Huntsville, and cyber security — two areas where the Springs already is working and where it hopes to do even more.
Cyber warfare came to the military’s attention in 2008, when a flash drive contaminated with malware was injected into the military’s classified network. A year later, insurgents in Iraq used off-the-shelf software to hack into the video feed of a predator drone, possibly compromising military operations.
Attacks on the nation’s cyber networks, both military and civilian, have been on the rise ever since. Enemy cyber attacks could hurt the military’s ability to strike with precision and keep communication lines clear.
According to a 2007 FBI report, more than 100 nations are believed to have some offensive cyber warfare capabilities. Recent wars such as Russia’s clash with Georgia in 2008 have included a “cyber war” engagement, in which government and financial websites have been attacked.
And so cyber-security today is now the next big push for the military and homeland security agencies, as well as companies that work in that realm.
Huntsville is gambling on the Defense Department’s focus on cyber security by tapping private and public dollars to develop a $1 billion research and business development park. The park broke ground this year and is expected to house its first businesses by March.
The hope is not only to attract cyber companies, but also serve as a clear signal that Huntsville is ready for even more federal investment.
It’s a path that’s proven to be a winner in the past. Huntsville designated about 140 acres of office space in the 1970s in order to attract NASA operations and companies that wanted to work with the space agency. It paid off, and Huntsville today is home to hundreds of companies that work in the aerospace and defense industries.
Beyond a new office park, Huntsville has some other advantages against the Springs. It has the nation’s third-highest number of people holding security clearances, and has more than 300 companies that are cleared at the highest levels by the government.
Even the University of Alabama is getting involved, developing a cyber curriculum. (The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs has had a similar program in place, as well as a homeland security program that was one of the first in the nation.)
In a slide presentation on the city’s website, Huntsville’s goals are clear: to become the nationally recognized hub for expertise in cyber security research and development.
“Cyber/Huntsville builds on Huntsville’s nationally recognized talent pool,” Mayor Tommy Battle said in an interview last week. “We have the tools to do cyber. The goal is to concentrate and combine those capabilities.”
Despite the intensifying competition, Brian Binn, president of military affairs for the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t believe the Springs’ role in cyber security is threatened.
In fact, he sees it as a major growth sector. That’s because the Air Force Cyber Command falls directly under Air Force Space Command, and both are headquartered at Peterson.
While he’s hopeful about cyber security and its role in the Springs, Binn is worried about another area: the missile defense agency.
Although headquartered in Huntsville, part of the agency’s mission is in Colorado Springs, at Schriever Air Force Base.
“There’s an initiative Commanding Gen. (Patrick) O’Reilly (in Huntsville at MDA headquarters) just put forward, trying to consolidate all the MDA work in Huntsville,” said Binn. “That could mean trouble here.”
The Missile Defense Agency’s presence at Schriever provides command and control, battle management and communications services for the nation’s ballistic missile defense system. More than 100 military personnel from all four branches work at the center, along with more than 900 civilian contractors.
Binn said it’s only natural that Huntsville would try to gain more MDA missions. The city already is known for launching missiles, as well as for growing defense companies.
“It’s not new,” he said. “They’re one of our competitors, and they’ve always been very aggressive. They have the support of their city, state and federal legislators to be aggressive. It’s something we have to work on.”
Click here to read Huntsville’s cyber initiative.