Aerospace connections promoted

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

 A growing aerospace industry in Colorado offers opportunities to businesses not only on the Front Range, but also the Western Slope, according to members of an organization that recently toured the region.

Club 20 hosted members of the Colorado Space Business Roundtable on a tour that included stops in Durango, Garfield County and Grand Junction.

The stop in Grand Junction included tours, meetings and presentations at Lewis Engineering and West Star Aviation as well as Colorado Mesa University.

Edgar Johansson, president of the Colorado Space Business Roundtable, said the tour will foster relationships among businesses across the state. “We were interested in going to Southwest Colorado and the Western Slope and reaching out to businesses here and make those connections,” Johansson said.

The group is looking not only at how companies can cooperate, but also how the aerospace industry can expand in Western Colorado, he added.

The Colorado Space Business Roundtable is a networking organization developed to provide a forum to promote the growth of the space and space-related industries in Colorado. Its members include representatives from government, industry and academics.

In Grand Junction, Johansson told a group of about 40 local business owners aerospace was “almost an accidental industry” in Colorado. “There was never a concerted effort to develop it in the state.”

Rather, the industry developed naturally, in part around the North American Aerospace Defense facility in Colorado Springs.

Since its origin, the space industry has captured the imaginations of Americans of all ages, Johansson said. “It is an industry that brings a lot of excitement, not just to adults, but to young people as well.”

Among the companies tapping into that excitement were such industry giants as Arrow Electronics; Lockheed Martin; Sierra Nevada; and Exelis, which was created from the defense technology segment of ITT.

That’s not to mention such smaller firms as Design Technologies and Phoenix Analysis, he added.

Joe Rice, a former state representative who now serves as director of government relations for Lockheed Martin, said there were two goals for tour.

“The first is that we want to find ways in which to do business together,” Rice said, adding that Lockheed Martin is always looking for suppliers and subcontractors, particularly among Colorado companies.

The second goal, Rice said, to promote the aerospace industry. “There used to be two countries that put people in space, the USA and the Soviet Union,” he said. “Now it’s Russia and China.”

Nonetheless, Colorado businesses have an important role to play in resuming manned space flight in the United States, he said. Lockheed Martin projects based in Colorado include the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle designed to transport astronauts beyond earth orbit.

Manned space flight is not just a “pride thing,” Rice said, but important for the U.S. economy and national security. Yet, more government money has been spent on bank bailouts than NASA, he added.

Vicky Lea of the Colorado Space Coalition said Colorado already boasts the second largest space economy in the U.S. “Colorado is second in the nation in terms of private sector aerospace employment, but first for private sector aerospace workers per capita,” Lea said.

There are more than 160,000 space-related jobs in the state and more than 400 companies and suppliers, she said. About 60 percent of Colorado aerospace companies employ less than 10 people each.

Representatives from the Colorado Competitive Council and Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology also spoke of the economic importance of the space industry to Colorado.

Following an industry presentation, audience members were given a chance to introduce themselves and their businesses. Several of those who spoke said they were already tangentially involved in the aerospace industry or were actively looking for ways to do more with the industry.

Johansson said the tour was “without question a success,” and he was impressed with participation in the events.

Bonnie Peterson, executive director of Club 20, also called the tour a success. Peterson said she was pleased with the caliber of attendees and looks forward to establishing strong business relationships.