Springs defense contractors hiring by the hundreds

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Defense workers maneuver a spacecraft into a thermal vacuum chamber for testing in California. Projects such as these are giving the Springs an employment edge.

Defense workers maneuver a spacecraft into a thermal vacuum chamber for testing in California. Projects such as these are giving the Springs an employment edge.

Employment picture brightening despite calls to cut defense spending nationally

While defense contractors throughout the nation are bracing for spending cuts from Washington, the outlook for hiring in Colorado Springs appears largely positive.

Defense giants like Boeing, ITT Services and Northrop Grumman predict no downturn in their Colorado Springs employment picture, and smaller companies like Intelligent Software Solutions and Boecore Inc. say they’re growing rapidly.

A lot of the jobs stem from work that private defense firms are doing with the Missile Defense Agency at Schriever Air Force Base and U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base.

Much of the local hiring will be for overseas positions, but the contracts these companies are landing will also create local jobs in 2011.

ITT Services, part of a multinational company headquartered in the Springs, said this week it will be hiring hundreds of people — postal workers and plumbers, as well as engineers and high-tech IT professionals — to work in Afghanistan, thanks to two large multimillion-dollar contracts from the Department of Defense. The company will also hire dozens of people to oversee the contracts from its Colorado Springs location.

ISS is also seeking people to deploy to Afghanistan to train soldiers on the company’s software and perform systems upgrades. Thanks to a couple of lucrative contracts, the company has increased its workforce in the Springs by 40 percent just this year.

“We’re about to outgrow office space here,” said Carl Houghton, vice president of strategic planning at ISS. “If we keep growing, we’ll be looking for additional office space here in the Springs.”

The company also has offices in Virginia, and moved some of its positions to the Springs when it outgrew that space, he said.

ISS is seeking highly trained, highly specialized IT workers in Colorado Springs, jobs that are occasionally hard to fill because of the specialized skill set needed.

Another firm in hiring mode, Boecore Inc., recently was awarded five new contracts from the Department of Defense. Those contracts led the locally owned engineering and IT company to increase its workforce by 20 percent in 2010, and Boecore plans to hire 50 more people in 2011, bringing its total workforce to more than 200 people.

The outlook is no less bright for Boeing, which plans to continue to hire people to work in its intelligence, security, strategic missile and defense systems, all of which are in Colorado.

“We are pursing growth in all four of our mission operations business quadrants: intelligence, civil, DoD and commercial,” said Boeing spokeswoman Paula Shawa.

Earlier this year, Boeing and Raytheon landed a contract to develop the next-generation GPS system. That contract will eventually mean 300 new jobs in the state including some in the Springs.

Area workers for Boeing are also waiting to hear about a “re-compete” contract, extending an existing deal on a ground-based missile defense system. The final request for proposals is expected before the end of the month. Boeing has been the prime contractor on such systems for the past 10 years.

Northgrop Grumman will also be hiring locally in the near future.

Despite all of the headlines out of the Washington about planned cutbacks, contracts aren’t yet being canceled, said Randy Belote, spokesman for Northrop Grumman in Washington, D.C.

“Some (contacts) are going to get strung out over a longer period of time to save money,” he said. “(But) we just aren’t seeing cuts in programs that would lead to a huge impact on employment.”

Northrop has 1,200 workers in the Springs, a level has remained stable “for quite some time,” he said.

“The move right now is to improve efficiencies,” he said. “That means cutting some very large programs, like discussions to close the Joint Forces Command (in Virginia), and to streamline the purchasing process.”

The move toward more efficient purchasing is good news for ISS, Houghton said.

ISS is small relative to some of its competitors. It has about 500 employees — 300 in Colorado Springs — allowing it to be more nimble than the defense giants.

“We can get contracts that, because of economies of scale, they won’t even bid on,” he said. “And this push for leaner contracts means companies like ours can benefit, even more than the bigger companies. We are expecting a year of phenomenal growth. It’s a big opportunity for us.”

Outside the Springs, most defense companies seem to be holding steady, cutting in some areas and hiring in others. Boeing, for instance, is moving to reduce costs in its defense, space and security sectors, while continuing to hire for missile defense and other areas.

Talks of cuts followed President Obama’s debt commission recommendation this month that the DoD cut its budget by $100 billion. Other bipartisan groups have recommended saving $1.1 trillion by freezing military spending after 2012.

One proposal that received a lot of attention suggested cutting active-duty personnel by 275,000, canceling a number of weapons systems and doing more to control health care costs.

Those notions have companies scrambling to remain competitive, in part by consolidation.

Boeing, for example, recently purchased Summit Aeronautics Group in Helena, Mont., a company with 135 people that manufactures titanium and hard-metal structures for commercial and military aircraft. It also bought CDM Technologies in St. Louis, a company that specializes in real-time transportation and logistics planning systems for the military.

Recruiters say despite these trends, they expect to stay busy.

“Demand has definitely increased,” Bill Scott, a recruiter at Bradley-Morris, said. “At the start of the year, competition for jobs was fierce. But now, the demand for military workers, particularly in the defense industry, is increasing. That’s very good news for us.”