Brigade’s impact will take time to develop

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The first winners from Fort Carson’s new aviation brigade will be construction companies: The Army plans to spend $224 million on buildings and hangars alone. But for local business, the economic impact will be muted, at least at first.

That’s because local companies have a chance to be subcontractors but probably won’t be in the running to lead the projects, said Brian Binn, president of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.

“Those dollars will flow this year,” he said. “But the main contractors are usually out of state. While I don’t want to use the term ‘cookie-cutter,’ an ops building at Fort Carson is going to look like an ops building on any other post. So that means the same contractors tend to get the big awards.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for receiving bids and managing contracts, he said. It will be the Corps’ responsibility to announce the projects and send the contracts to Omaha, Neb., to be awarded.

“We have little influence over who wins the contracts here,” said Brian Dziekomski, area engineer for the corps.

Dziekomski said there was no way to predict which companies might benefit from the move.

“No single company gets all the contracts,” he said. “It depends on project to project, what the bid is, what we get the most value for. We can’t really tell companies how to bid so they will get the project.”

In economic sectors beyond construction and maintenance, Binn said, there will be a trickle-down effect for local businesses.

“The main businesses that will benefit are secondary: retail, car dealerships, housing,” he said. “In an ideal world, of course, all the work would be local. But that’s not how it works in contracting.”

The 2,700-member aviation brigade is bringing 113 helicopters to Fort Carson, and that could represent new economic development opportunities as well.

“Avionics companies could see some new business, depending on what the Army decides to contract out and what it keeps in house,” Binn said. “Companies already here could expand and new companies could move in. It’s a big opportunity.”

But Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., isn’t optimistic about new companies arriving here.

“Some companies could expand their presence. Companies like Boeing, Lockheed (Martin), Raytheon all have avionics branches. They might move some people here,” he said. “But we haven’t had any contacts from aviation companies during all the time they’ve discussed putting an aviation brigade here.”

The Army announced plans for a new combat aviation brigade in 2009, and Fort Carson was one of the finalists. Since then, local, state and national leaders have lobbied for the final decision, which was announced this week.

There has been hope all along that the aviation brigade will boost Colorado Springs’ flagging economy. Other sectors — particularly the service industry — will see an improvement once the soldiers arrive. But that won’t be until 2013 at the earliest.

Until then, local construction companies, engineering firms, electricians and others all stand to gain new business from the brigade. But it won’t be simple.

Government contracting can be a complex, difficult process. The government uses a website, www.fbo.gov, to announce contract opportunities; companies registered at the site receive a notification if a contract is listed that meets their capabilities.

The bidding process can be lengthy — and that’s where the Colorado Procurement Assistance Center comes in.

Led by Tom Elam, the assistance center, headquartered in Colorado Springs, employs eight counselors to walk companies through the bidding process. The PTAC has 109 active clients and has helped more than 1,700 companies in Colorado gain government contracts.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for this kind of assistance,” Elam said. “Colorado Springs is busy, but Denver is exploding.”

Counselors take a business client and explain the process, he said. Most companies don’t even know where to start.

“We like to meet companies face to face to find out who they are. That’s the first step,” he said. “After that, we’re happy to act as a resource, guide them through where to sign up, how to navigate the system.

“We have a list; we go step by step through the process — teach them how to register to sell to the government — things like office supplies. Then we let them know how to market their product,” he said. “We’re always here, always available.”

Elam understands the opportunities that the brigade will bring. He’s already met with contracting officers at Fort Carson, hoping to gain more insight into the kinds of contracts the government will need.

The PTAC serves only as a resource, providing companies with the training and a checklist to apply for government contracts. So far it has brought more than $249 million in government contracts to El Paso County and a total of $549 million to the state.