April 2—Even though Colorado is already seeing the growth of aerospace industry clusters, economic development officials in the state and metro Denver are not slowing down in their efforts to attract more.
The high-paying jobs that often come with these companies’ engineering and physics roles are too valuable to Colorado’s economy, and the industrial cluster has Colorado institutions of higher education that are focused on maintaining a talent pool, officials said.
“For more than 60 years, Colorado has cultivated an incredible aerospace industry that pushes boundaries,” said Jeff Kraft, deputy director of the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), via email. “When companies choose Colorado, they are part of an important aerospace economic ecosystem that not only positions Colorado as the second-largest aerospace economy in the nation by absolute jobs and the largest state per capita for aerospace jobs , but continues to advance groundbreaking missions related to national security, space, and planetary science.
Over the past two calendar years, the OEDIT Economic Development Commission has received and approved eight proposals from aerospace companies to relocate or expand here. Companies are looking for job growth incentive tax credits that can be worth millions of dollars. State officials have agreed to provide $19.7 million in grants to these companies to create some 2,047 jobs over the next five to nine years. Three of these companies have accepted and are growing here.
Two in 2021 included PteroDynamics Inc., which signed a contract for industrial space in Colorado Springs for a research and development facility to build its vertical take-off and landing aircraft. He hopes to create 186 jobs in El Paso County over the next five years, with an average salary of $120,645. OEDIT granted up to $2.5 million in tax credits.
Another was Orbit Fab, which bills itself as the “gas station in space.” He hopes to create nearly 200 new jobs when he moves from San Francisco to Denver.
“Although several states have an aerospace presence in the United States, Colorado made the most sense for our team,” CEO Daniel Faber said at the time. “From the start of our selection process, the combination of industry data and Metro Denver EDC’s collaborative approach made it clear that we would join a thriving aerospace environment with enormous growth potential. We have no doubt that we’ll hit the ground running in Denver.”
PteroDynamics CEO Matthew Graczyk said, “We don’t view these incentives as free money. We view this as a way for us to attract better talent and pay a better salary. For our company, people are everything.”
And perhaps the biggest development for Colorado’s aerospace industry in 2021 was news of billionaire Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos rolling out plans for an operation south of Denver at Highlands Ranch.
The fast-growing aerospace company, headquartered in Kent, Wash., currently has approximately 4,000 employees nationwide.
“Our South Denver office will support functions across Blue with a focus on program management, systems engineering, avionics, software, integration and mission design supporting of our launch vehicle and space system programs,” according to the company’s website.
Economic development officials declined to comment on their possible involvement in Blue Origin’s announcement.
“2020 and 2021 have been banner years for aerospace growth here, despite all the odds,” said Vicky Lea of Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. “Colorado’s aerospace employment has grown 30 percent over the past five years. That’s a result of the state’s economic development and leadership efforts.”
Lea, director and aerospace and aviation for the company, said they were rolling out a new booth for this year’s Space Symposium in Colorado Springs to highlight the region’s growing aerospace community, strong talent pool, Area military facilities such as US Space Force and Army retirees.
“We will take this opportunity to continue telling Colorado’s aerospace story and what makes it successful,” Lea said in an interview. “We’ll dig deeper into the ingredients that make the secret sauce that makes Colorado’s aerospace industry so special.”
The state is known for its spirit of “collaboration and cohesion,” Lea said.
“It cuts across all levels and all aspects of the industry, from academics to economic development efforts and state leadership as well.”
She said the state’s aerospace industry talent pool is deep, not just in institutions like the University of Colorado Boulder and the Colorado School of Mines, but in the large number of military retirees who chose to settle in the state.
“It helps to meet business staffing needs,” she said. “Those with a security clearance are always in demand.”
Finally, officials tout “the scale and scope of space assets here,” she said.
“From colleges, universities and research institutes to military installations here, aerospace companies want to be close to military installations because the Department of Defense is a key customer.
“On top of all that, Colorado is a great place to live and work,” Lea said.
“While Colorado has welcomed more than 400 businesses to this great state with our unparalleled workforce, our office continues to find ways to support businesses along their journey while sharing success stories that highlight highlight Colorado’s economic growth,” Kraft said. “That’s why we say in Colorado we’re ‘a mile closer to space’.”
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