Military lobbyist sees opportunities for Colorado despite cuts

March 16, 2014 Updated: March 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm
photo - Official Photo -     Lt Gen Jay Lindell (U.S. Air Force Photo by Michael Pausic)
Official Photo - Lt Gen Jay Lindell (U.S. Air Force Photo by Michael Pausic) 

DENVER - The Pentagon is cutting $900 billion in spending over 10 years, but Jay Lindell sees opportunity.

From a high-rise office with views of the Rockies, Lindell is mapping out ways that Colorado Defense contractors can snag global business as U.S. spending contracts and scheming to add to Front Range military bases as the Defense Department shrinks elsewhere.

"You have to get out there," said Lindell whose long-winded title is the Aerospace and Defense Industry Champion at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

A retired Air Force two-star, Lindell took on the Colorado job this year. The post was created after a think-tank report found that the state wasn't doing enough to tout its extensive defense and aerospace industrial base.

"Most of my outreach, 80 percent, is connecting with our own aerospace ecosystem," Lindell said.

Colorado is home to Ball Aerospace, United Launch Alliance, Aeroflex Corp., Braxton Technologies, Sierra Nevada Corp. and dozens of other players in the multibillion-dollar space industry.

Many of those jobs have sprouted from burgeoning defense spending, which peaked at nearly $700 billion in 2010 - up from $320 billion in 2001.

Defense spending is expected to remain flat for the next several years, and key aerospace programs, including spending on new launch rockets, Global Positioning System satellites and a new generation of communication satellites is being shaved.

To keep the industry going, Lindell is looking overseas, where Asia is locked in a growing space race and cash is flowing.

"The international space market is one that is growing," he said.

He said Colorado is also gaining leadership in spin-off industries, including untapped uses for GPS signals and the surging cyber defense industry that protects networks from computer attacks.

"Long-term, I see a lot of opportunity," he said.

A top priority, though, is defending Colorado's six military bases.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has proposed large cuts to the Army, with its ranks falling to 440,000 soldiers in coming years from 520,000 now.

The Air Force has announced cuts of 25,000 airmen over the next three years and wants to retire 550 aircraft from its fleet.

Along with those cuts, Hagel and others seek a round of base closures in 2017.

Key to gaining ground during government cuts is showing the Pentagon that Colorado is a good place to house troops. That means fixing infrastructure; making sure local governments are prepared to meet off-base needs for troops; and convincing residents that keeping the military is a priority.

"You've got to make sure the public understands the economic value of defense in Colorado and what it adds to this state," he said.

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