Aerospace park opts for Denver over Springs

While Colorado Springs missed out on an aerospace manufacturing park planned for the metro-Denver region, the city will be considered for a satellite location.

The Colorado Association of Manufacturing and Technology entered a partnership with NASA to create the Aerospace and Clean Energy Manufacturing and Innovation Park last December.

The business site, designed to shorten the time between development and production of clean energy and space technologies, will have an anticipated economic impact of more than $7 billion.

More than 200 companies and 10,000 jobs are expected to move into the ACE center.

The Springs didn’t meet the criteria for the regional center mostly because of its location hours from the state’s major research institutions and the Golden-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory. But CAMT officials believe the city could be an ideal location for a future satellite location.

“We have substantial aerospace assets here,” said Mike Kazmierski, president of the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. “We’ve asked that they include the satellite location early on in the planning, and we’re certainly going to stay on top of it.”

CAMT plans to open discussions about Colorado Springs options during the National Space Symposium, April 11-14, at The Broadmoor, said Elaine Thorndike, CEO of the Colorado Manufacturing Association. Top NASA officials are slated to speak at the symposium.

CAMT hasn’t set specific timelines for when facilities might open here.

“We’re really just going to have initial conversations,” Thorndike said. “We’ll see how it goes from there.”

The Colorado-NASA collaboration was announced in December, and CAMT received 30 proposals for site as of the Feb. 14 deadline. The group was looking for a free or inexpensive building about 200,000 square feet, as well as a 200 or 300-acre space that is ready to be developed and has access to Interstate 25.

“They hired a firm early in the process that identified the triangle region north of Denver as a prime location for the space park,” Kazmierski said. “We got the sense their mind was set on the Denver-metro region early on.”

The main focus of the space park is to connect research at major universities with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Thorndike said.

“But the Space Act with NASA is a statewide initiative, and we’re going to be looking at Colorado Springs’ assets, as well as what facilities might be needed,” she said.

Among those assets are the Air Force’s Space Command and the Army’s Northern Command. The city is also home to more than 100 aerospace companies, and the Air Force Academy and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs have robust aerospace research programs. The Space Foundation, an international nonprofit advocate for the aerospace industry, is also headquartered here.

The concept of a branch aerospace location takes some of the sting out of not fitting the initial criteria CAMT set up for the space park. The city could have competed, Kazmierski said, at least in some areas.

“We have empty warehouse buildings that would have fit their criteria, but not for free. The city isn’t going to give anything away. They (CAMT) were looking for an investment, an investment in the future,” he said. “And while I think we could have pulled something together, we just aren’t in the right location.”

Kazmierski also pointed to a chronic problem in the Springs: lack of economic incentives to attract major businesses.

“If we had an economic development fund like Pueblo’s, then maybe we’d have a seat at the table,” he said. “We don’t have anything like that. And CAMT said they expected a developer or property owner would finance the start of the park because it is an investment.”

Pueblo sets aside a half-cent of its sales tax collections for economic development.

Still, the area is going to benefit from the satellite office, Kazmierski said, and any growth in the state is good for Colorado Springs.

“We don’t really want to compete with communities in the state …,” he said. “We want Colorado to become the No. 1 space state. We’re third now, so this is a huge benefit.”

The Springs isn’t far away from the locations being considered for the space park, he said.

“Companies could look at it and decide to come here based on the fact that the park is only an hour, maybe an hour and a half away, but the military assets are right here,” Kazmierski said. “We expect to benefit from the collaboration, from the attention from NASA.”

The satellite office fits in with Colorado Springs’ 6035 plan, a proposal that focuses the area’s economic development to specific industries, such as aerospace. The regional innovative cluster will definitely play a big role in meeting those criteria, he said.