An oh-by-the-way comment dropped into a recent Club 20 address by Gov. Jared Polis may—or may not — signal a significant economic development win for the Western Slope city of Grand Junction that has been wooing the aerospace industry.
Polis was speaking to the Western Slope coalition of counties at their annual fall meeting Saturday when he lauded the “recession-proof jobs” the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s new headquarters will bring to Grand Junction. Then, he mentioned that he has been working with aerospace giant Lockheed Martin to bring in more recession-proof jobs.
“We hope to have announcements on that soon,” he said before moving on to another topic.
That comment came as a surprise to Grand Junction Economic Partnership Director Robin Brown, and to Chris Pettigrew, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Space. Neither admitted to knowing of any pending announcements about Lockheed Martin locating a facility in Grand Junction — or anywhere else on the Western Slope.
“I am surprised. Maybe he knows something I don’t know,” Brown said, referring to Polis.
Pettigrew neither confirmed nor denied any Lockheed Martin plans for Grand Junction.
“We appreciate the governor’s interest and that of state and local officials on Colorado development opportunities,” Pettigrew wrote in an emailed statement. “Colorado and the Western Slope have a lot to offer any business as far as business climate, workforce and quality of life.”
No answer and a nonanswer
The governor’s office did not respond to requests for clarification on his statement at Club 20.
His Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade also issued a nonanswer in response to questions about the governor’s statement: “Colorado’s advanced industries continue to fuel Colorado’s economic resilience and their growth is not bound by geography. Companies and industries continue to pursue statewide opportunities. OEDIT supports Governor Polis’ priority of promoting economic opportunities throughout rural Colorado to spread our economic prosperity throughout the state.”
The Grand Junction Economic Partnership has been working for some time to attract Lockheed Martin to Grand Junction. But Brown said she couldn’t talk specifically about prospects with that company. She would only comment on efforts to attract the aerospace industry generally.
“In the last six months we have been gaining traction in the aerospace manufacturing industry,” she said. “I am optimistic we will attract an aerospace company here soon.”
Brown confirmed that Lockheed Martin has made several site visits to Grand Junction—the only aerospace company to do so.
Lockheed Martin recently announced that it was awarded a NASA contract to produce six Orion spacecraft that will carry astronauts from Earth to the moon and back. The contract specifies that Lockheed Martin may build an additional six spacecraft before 2030. Lockheed Martin has been the prime contractor during the development phase of the Orion program.
Some of that work is being done in Lockheed Martin’s Front Range sites. Lockheed Martin currently has 11 locations spread from Boulder to Colorado Springs. It is the third-largest employer in Colorado with more than 14,000 employees.
Lockheed Martin has one manufacturing tie to Grand Junction. A Grand Junction subcontractor, Wren Industries, is one of 100 subcontractors in Colorado making parts for the company.
Wren, a company that began as a mom-and-pop manufacturer of parts for the rock-climbing industry 21 years ago, has been making sealing plates for Lockheed Martin and the Orion project since 2017.
Brown said Wren CEO Mike Sneddon has helped with Lockheed Martin recruitment efforts by raising awareness about Grand Junction’s potential.
She said Grand Junction’s pluses for a company like Lockheed Martin include a stable workforce and a relatively low cost of living and of doing business. Colorado Mesa University also has a growing engineering program and a new Cyber Security Center that can help meet the demand for employees in the aerospace industry.
Partnerships shoring up skilled worker pipeline
CMU has partnered with the University of Colorado for the past decade to offer degrees in civil, electrical and computer engineering. The program now has more than 100 students enrolled. K-12 schools in Grand Junction and the Western Colorado Community College participate in programs that help create a pipeline for more students interested in engineering, cybersecurity and manufacturing fields.
“We have shown the aerospace industry that we will create training programs with the exact skills you need,” Brown said. “Their eyes light up at that.”
Brown said she has talked to the company about both manufacturing and cybersecurity possibilities in Grand Junction.
The city may not be known as a cybersecurity hub, but in this age it doesn’t necessarily have to be to land a company like Lockheed. The budding workforce coming out of the college and the city’s entrepreneurial spirit is creating that potential, said Vance Brown, CEO of the National Cybersecurity Center in Colorado Springs.
On a visit to the school last year, he said was impressed by CMU’s cybersecurity and entrepreneurship efforts and the skill set of graduates.
“I was blown away by what I saw at Mesa,” he said. “They definitely have students interested in (cybersecurity) and classes available.”
There are other good reasons for a company in the business of cybersecurity to move outside of metropolitan areas, said Bob Bowles, director of the Center of Information Studies at Regis University.
“If you’ve got all your cybersecurity locations in one area, for example, you’re vulnerable in that area,” Bowles said. “There is something to be said about geographical diversity.”
“In this age, with technology the way it is, you can pretty much set up an operation anywhere you want on the planet just as long as you get the infrastructure in place and the proper controls,” Bowles added.
But the governor’s not talking
Bobby Braun, CU Boulder’s Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science who oversees the engineering school partnership with CMU, heralds a possible Lockheed Martin expansion into Western Colorado.
“Lockheed Martin is one of our nation’s premier technology companies and a major asset in the state of Colorado,” Braun said. “Expanding the company’s presence across Colorado would be good for our state’s economic competitiveness, security, and quality of life.”
For now, with the governor staying mum after dropping what could be historic news for Grand Junction, Lockheed Martin watchers will have to remain in the dark about the company’s plans for the western side of the Continental Divide.
Brown said she is simply glad, as Polis did make clear that aerospace possibilities for Grand Junction are on his radar.
“We appreciate any help the governor can give us,” Brown said. “He has been very supportive. He gets why we are a great place for the aerospace industry.”