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Springs company bounces back, doubles staff in past year

By: WAYNE HEILMAN
August 16, 2012
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photo - Shawnee Huckstep, CEO of TechWise, is pictured in her downtown Colorado Springs office on Wednesday. The local company has won $26 million in training program development contracts and contract renewals with the Air Force, Army and the United Arab Emirates during the past year.   Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK, THE GAZETTE
Shawnee Huckstep, CEO of TechWise, is pictured in her downtown Colorado Springs office on Wednesday. The local company has won $26 million in training program development contracts and contract renewals with the Air Force, Army and the United Arab Emirates during the past year. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK, THE GAZETTE 

It’s been a good year for TechWise.

The Colorado Springs-based company has won $26 million in training program development contracts and contract renewals with the Air Force, Army and the government of the United Arab Emirates during the past year, allowing it to double its staff to nearly 200 employees.

About 70 of the 100 employees that were added work in the company’s offices in Dubai, where they are helping the United Arab Emirates government design training programs for military, homeland security and emergency preparedness, said TechWise CEO Shawnee Huckstep. The other 30 new hires are working on either new or renewed contracts for military training development, logistics and facility support contracts at Peterson and Schriever Air Force bases near Colorado Springs, Fort Benning in Georgia and Fort Sill in Oklahoma, she said.

The expansion represents a major turnaround for TechWise, which cut its 250-person staff in half in 2010 as its military customers shifted work from contractors to their staff as part of a Department of Defense initiative to reduce spending on outside contractors by 30 percent. Under the 2009 initiative, the department had planned to shift 33,000 contractors to civil-service positions by 2015 to free up funding for ships, fighters and weapons systems. But the plan was dropped a year later when it failed to produce the anticipated savings.

“We were down to about 50 employees by the end of 2010 because much of the day-to-day training was insourced and we no longer were providing the trainers to our military customers,” Huckstep said. “These new contracts involve developing training systems, procedures and strategic training. We are doing higher-value work now, so we will generate record revenue this year even though we have fewer employees than we did at our peak. It is no longer business as usual — the days of getting a contract and having it automatically renewed are over.”

TechWise started a subsidiary called TechWise Global two years ago in Dubai to seek contracts in the Middle East and Europe and diversify the company’s business as the Defense Department’s insourcing program was at its peak. That move started paying dividends in the past year as TechWise Global began winning the United Arab Emirates contracts, which has prompted the company to expand its 30-person staff at its downtown Colorado Springs headquarters with information technology and recruiting personnel, Huckstep said.

TechWise moved its headquarters in May to the top floor of the former Chase Bank building, 6 N. Tejon St., from 2860 S. Circle Drive after Huckstep bought an interest in the property from a limited liability company that also includes the O’Neil Group and Colorado Structures Inc. The building also houses Braxton Technologies, another local defense contractor that is majority-owned by O’Neil Group. The two companies have helped to nearly fill a mostly vacant downtown building that had been in foreclosure when the group acquired it.

Huckstep started TechWise as a part-time business in 1994 when she and her husband, Arran, were students at Baylor University in Texas. They moved to the Springs in 1996 when Arran Huckstep was stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, and launched the business full time in 2001.

Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman
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