As a lifelong resident of Colorado Springs, I understand and appreciate the role our country’s military has had in helping us become a great city. Like many other residents, I can attribute my very presence here to the military. My father, who lived in Detroit, enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor. He was notified to report to the newly created Camp Carson in February 1942 to prepare for the eventual allied invasion of North Africa. He had never been west of the Mississippi River. After he arrived at Camp Carson, he called my mother and told her of the beauty of Colorado Springs. When she visited and saw the beauty of the area for herself, they made a deal. If my father survived the war, they would move here from Detroit. And that’s exactly what they did in 1946. They adopted me in 1951. As a boy, I watched how excited everyone was when it was announced that Colorado Springs would be the home of the Air Force Academy.
A sizable percentage of our population can attribute their presence in Colorado Springs to the fact that an ancestor was stationed here at one point or another. Colorado Springs is what it is today because of its strong military presence. The military is an indelible part of our city’s history and its persona. Following the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, Colorado Springs business leaders created the Military Affairs Council under the Chamber of Commerce.
Those leaders organized the city and bought land that was then donated to the War Department for the creation of Camp Carson. The MAC would go on to help spearhead community efforts that helped establish Peterson Air Force Base, the Air Force Academy, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station and Schriever Air Force Base.
Over the last 75 years, Colorado Springs has become an epicenter for the defense industry and headquarters of numerous commands focused on the critical mission of defending the United States of America. Some of the missions and activities taking place right here in Colorado Springs include homeland and North American security, defense and intelligence, world-class education and military training, realistic combined arms training, missile warning and space control to combat forces and commands worldwide, operation and support of Department of Defense satellites, and aerospace warning. Due to the nature of many of the defense operations, cybersecurity is an important, growing component and Colorado Springs is making its mark as an epicenter of technology and research in the cyber arena.
Our military presence and abundance of educated intelligence professionals helped us attract the National Cybersecurity Center to the city. These efforts are critical not only to our nation, but also to our city and region.
Today, our five local military installations have an annual local economic impact of $5.7 billion, and include approximately 40,000 uniformed and 13,000 civilian personnel. The aerospace and defense industry in El Paso County, which supports these installations and the commands headquartered here, includes over 240 companies employing 111,000 people. All told, it equates to more than $12 billion in annual economic impact, or 44 percent of our local economy. Statewide, the economic impact of our military installations, Department of Defense Contractors, and the National Guard and Reserves totals $36 billion. Defense industry employment accounts for nearly a quarter of a million jobs in Colorado and 7.5% of total state wages, with 94% of that along the Front Range and 49% right here in El Paso County. Colorado Springs has been recognized by ClearanceJobs.com as the number four city in the U.S. for defense jobs. In Fiscal Year 2016, $18.1 billion flowed into Colorado from the Department of Defense.
The economic impact of this sector is on an upward trend. This year, Summit Economics published a report describing 33% growth in DoD contract spending in Colorado Springs from $1.8 billion in 2016 to more than $2.4 billion in 2018. That growth of over $600 million in just two years directly resulted in at least 3,000 jobs, and indirectly in at least another 1,500 jobs. Looking across all of the Pikes Peak Region’s job growth over this period, the increase in DoD contracts accounted for at least a third of our job growth, which occurred in a variety of sectors including construction, professional scientific and technical services, education and health services, and others.
As long as Colorado continues to support our military installations, this growth will continue. While as a city we are always trying to expand and diversify our economy, it is not to diminish the military presence here in any way. We place a lot of attention and resources to support, enhance and grow our defense community. As military units consider moving to Colorado Springs, we attempt to seize the obvious opportunities for economic development, especially as the president’s proposed budget includes $14.1 billion on national security space spending. That’s nearly a 20% increase in military space spending. With the soon-to-be created U.S. Space Command, we have a significant opportunity to add another high level military headquarters to our region. We are aggressively making the case that Space Command belongs in Colorado Springs.
The city of Colorado Springs is actively engaged on a continual basis, both directly and through the Chamber and EDC’s Military Affairs Council, with the local military installations on how our community can support their mission readiness, align our workforce, and make sure we adjust as necessary to remain an attractive home for our nation’s military families. We do this with support from local and state government, our business community, and local nonprofit support agencies to meet a wide range of needs including a highly trained civilian workforce, excellent educational opportunities, healthcare, housing, city services, and overall quality of life. Fort Carson has dubbed itself the “Best Hometown in the Army,” and we agree.
Infrastructure is an increasing challenge that cities all across America are facing, and one that’s of high importance, not only to our residents, but also to military leaders in determining where they will base their units. In my first term as mayor we made significant strides, and I am expanding the focus on transportation infrastructure needed to accommodate the growth and prosperity that our city enjoys. With the third year of historic road work under voter-approved Ballot Measure 2C in the books and the fourth season just starting, we remain committed to improving our city’s public infrastructure. We have already repaved over 700 miles of roadway under 2C. An extension of Ballot 2C would allow us to improve more key arterials and also improve many well-traveled and deteriorating residential roadways.
But transportation is larger than just city roads, and that’s why I’m committed to lobbying the state to fund state roadways, Highways 94, 8, 24 and 21, to provide much needed repairs. We will also begin a full-scale transportation study that will span beyond roads and infrastructure and look to improve our offerings in public transportation.
Our state government appears committed to infrastructure improvements near Peterson and Schriever Air Force Bases. Gov. Jared Polis recently described improvements to State Highway 94, the lone major access road to Schriever Air Force Base, as a “top priority.”
Support for our military goes well beyond infrastructure. I am extremely proud of our community’s efforts to help active-duty military, retirees, veterans and their families thrive and feel at home in the Pikes Peak region. We have a lot going for us with our scenic beauty and outdoor lifestyle, and a lot to offer as the number one most desirable place to live, as named by U.S. News & World Report last year.
Colorado Springs is also a very hospitable city and recognizes the unique challenges and hard work needed to ensure that military families are made to feel welcomed, valued and supported. That’s why, in 2016, Colorado Springs was among the inaugural class of Great American Defense Communities. The Great American Defense Communities program was designed by the Association of Defense Communities in conjunction with the House and Senate Defense Communities Caucuses to recognize and celebrate communities who set the gold standard for creating great places for military families to live and serve.
Becoming a supportive, resilient defense community doesn’t just happen. It takes leadership and collaboration to ensure that our community has the supporting agencies, programs, services and quality of life opportunities to make Colorado Springs a great home for America’s heroes. Colorado Springs has many incredible partner organizations that give back to our military community and demonstrate in the most tangible way that we appreciate and respect the incredible contributions of those who have served our nation.
The Peak Military Care Network supports all military personnel in the Pikes Peak region. This collaborative, umbrella organization is a partnership of 45 support agencies with a strong reputation of improving communication and collaboration between our military installations and the support community for more than 10 years. This network provided more than 116,000 services in 2018 and connects military family members to local resources including housing, education, employment, crisis intervention, and financial assistance resources via their Network of Care website.
Our community is working to make it easier for our military spouses to achieve their career goals through the Military Spouse Career Coalition, which was formed by the Chamber & EDC, the Colorado Springs Mayor’s office, elected officials, military installation family services, workforce agencies, higher education institutions and multiple military spouse support organizations.
The Coalition provides a centralized source of information on local and national resources for spouses, best practices for employers, and the latest in legislative updates that impact spouse employment. This award-winning program provides access to community networking, mentorship, and professional development groups. This Coalition also helped to create a Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zone in Colorado Springs, only the third such zone in the nation.
Colorado Springs’ excellent schools, including numerous options for K-12 education and robust college and adult education programs, world-class health care facilities, tremendous outdoor recreational and cultural opportunities, affordability and overall high quality of life makes our city one of the most sought after destinations for those in uniform. Fortunately for us, many choose to remain here following their military service for those same reasons.
Out of 599 U.S. cities evaluated, the well-respected Military Times ranked Colorado Springs as the Best Place for Veterans in 2019. The ranking is based on the evaluation of three broad categories including veteran and military culture and services; economic indicators and livability factors.
Over 85,000 veterans and military retirees call El Paso County home. It benefits our community to retain veterans and retirees with their strong work ethic, love of country and valuable skills sets to contribute to our community in a variety of ways. With a new state-of-the-art Veterans Administration outpatient clinic and high ratings from veteran groups, Colorado Springs will continue to host a large number of veterans and military retirees. We appreciate all that veterans bring to our community. They truly help make it a better place.
Colorado Springs has grown to be among the best cities in America to live, work and play. Our job as leaders and residents of this great city is to ensure it remains so far into the future, and the continued military-community collaboration, mutual support and shared opportunity will continue to play a major role in our city’s success.
The depth and breadth of this community’s support for our local military is vital to maintain. We have incredible national pride and a true appreciation for those who serve.
We are proud of our military presence and we will remain committed to meeting the needs of the local military installations to remain the “Best Hometown in America” for our active-duty military, our veterans and their families.
John Suthers is the mayor of Colorado Springs and the former attorney general of Colorado, U.S. Attorney for Colorado and Fourth Judicial District Attorney.