Space firms promise to work with Rifle businesses at Colorado Space Business Roundtable meeting |

Space firms promise to work with Rifle businesses at Colorado Space Business Roundtable meeting

Mike McKibbin
Citizen Telegram Editor
Mike McKibbin/Citizen Telegram
Staff Photo |

Some Rifle businesses may have left a gathering with Colorado aerospace firms wondering if they might be able to provide something that helps mankind explore the final frontier.

The Colorado Space Business Roundtable, an independent, nonprofit organization that works to promote the growth of the state’s space-related industry, with particular focus on small businesses, stopped in Rifle on Aug. 8 for a meeting with area business leaders, elected officials and government representatives at Grand River Hospital.

Mayor Jay Miller told the crowd of around 50 that the area workforce has helped the natural gas industry flourish. He also noted the area’s transportation advantages with I-70, the railroad and Garfield County Regional Airport, which the group later visited.

“The Rifle Air Park [a privately-owned parcel of land adjacent to the airport] would be a great place to set up shop,” Miller said.

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said the airport is underutilized now and ripe for more business.

“There’s vacant land all around it, all with infrastructure ready to go, so we’d like to see more use of it,” he said. “I think it will definitely be an economic driver with a large company.”

State Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, noted the aerospace industry is the second largest industry in the state in terms of jobs, behind only the energy industry. According to information given out at the event, Colorado’s aerospace industry ranks first in the country with nearly 25,000 employees at private aerospace companies, and a $3 billion annual payroll.

“I came to Colorado in the early ’80s with Ford Aerospace, until Lockheed Martin bought the company,” Rankin said. “I think whether it’s a small firm, telecommuting or education, there will be some action items that come from this visit.”

Space firms vow to work with small businesses

“Today is just the starting point,” said roundtable chair Stacey DeFore. “We want to see this develop into a dialog we can continue in the future. And we will be back.”

Roundtable President and CEO Edgar Johansson asked “how can we help your businesses and how can we work together to bring more business to the West Slope?”

Johansson said “portability of expertise, like specialty welding, is something that can definitely lead to contracts” with aerospace firms.

Another speaker noted the state Legislature had approved measures that allow aerospace firms to receive grants if they expand in the state, as well as increase their exports.

Joe Rice, director of governmental relations for Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, said the roundtable members had made contacts with a few West Slope small businesses that might end up working with his company.

He also urged the business owners to lobby the Colorado congressional delegation for more funding for NASA, which could result in more business for the aerospace firms in the state.

“Colorado was really at the center of human space flight in the past,” Rice said. “Now, the U.S. is not even one of the two countries with a manned space program in operation, it’s Russia and China. As Americans, that should bother us.”

Today, the U.S. pays Russia $72 million every time an astronaut is taken to the international space station, Rice added.

Johansson listed other Colorado companies, universities and institutions and their involvement in future planned space projects, such as the Dream Chaser, which he described as a “mini-space shuttle;” the Orion spacecraft that will take astronauts on long-duration, deep space missions; and the Maven, or Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, mission.

“Some of these companies are looking for mechanical and electrical engineers, and they’re eager to have them working in remote places,” Johansson said. “There’s a company in Durango that just made a connection for something like that two days ago.”

He urged businesses to be proactive, since “all this stuff is happening now.”

Tom Bugnitz, CEO of the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology, said his organization helps small-to-medium sized businesses, with 10 to 200 employees, improve their operations or develop new products and services.

“We have an agreement with NASA where they will soon assign a NASA staff person to Colorado to help connect small businesses to the aerospace industry,” Bugnitz said.

He added the organization had already helped three Colorado companies.

Betty Padilla, supplier diversity director for Lockheed Martin, said the company had awarded $6.4 billion to small businesses in the last two years.

“They’re among our suppliers now,” she said. “We find that the smaller businesses can be more innovative, since you have fewer regulations. So it’s a win/win situation. Just do your homework and tell us what your capabilities are.”

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