State Fight: Colorado wages international campaign in space sector

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Competition to attract space companies is going global.

“Obviously, we are competing with our fellow states, but there’s even more competition for those companies that are looking for a U.S. location,” said Vicky Lea, aviation and aerospace director for the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.

In recent years, Astroscale, the Japanese space sustainability company, Kleos Space, a radiofrequency-monitoring firm based in Luxembourg, and ground station operator Kongsberg Satellite Services of Norway have opened offices in Colorado.

In addition, Orbit Fab, a satellite refueling startup, announced plans in August to relocate to Denver from San Francisco.

“Silicon Valley is a great place to start,” said Orbit Fab CEO Daniel Faber. “There is capital and a creative mindset.”

When it was time to expand, Orbit Fab chose Colorado largely because of its talent pool and proximity to potential customers and partners.

Colorado also offered Orbit Fab tax incentives worth as much as $4.6 million based on its promise of creating nearly 200 high-paying jobs.

“Talent is a huge driver for aerospace growth here,” Lea said, noting prominent educational institutions like the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the Colorado School of Mines. “We have the nation’s second-most highly educated workforce.”

Colorado’s 290 aerospace companies employed 33,460 people in 2020, according to the report, “Aerospace Colorado: home to the most intelligent life in the galaxy.” The state also is strong in adjacent fields: software, energy and advanced manufacturing, “which broadens and deepens the talent pool,” Lea said.

For years, Colorado has attracted companies seeking military space talent thanks to the presence of U.S. Space Force Bases at Cheyenne Mountain, Schriever and Peterson, which is the current headquarters for U.S. Space Command.

Supporting local industry is a community-wide effort, Lea said, pointing to the attendance of government leaders, industry executives and academics at the annual aerospace day at the state capital. The annual event, sponsored by Colorado Citizens for Space Exploration, is designed to ensure Colorado legislators recognize the importance of the state’s space economy.

In the last five years, Colorado’s aerospace employment has grown 30 percent. The state now bills itself as having the nation’s highest concentration of private aerospace employment.

“We live and breathe aerospace,” Lea said.

This article originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

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