REPORT: Defense industry growing in Aurora, across state, bringing $36.6 billion to Colorado

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Lt. Col. Kurt “Tug” Tongren gets situated in the cockpit of an F-16 as he prepares for a flight training exercise, Aug. 15 at Buckley Air Force Base. US Rep. Mike Coffman is asking for $15.8 million to extend the buffer zone at Buckley, in order keep development a good distance away from the base.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel

AURORA | A new statewide economic study released Thursday shows a growing military and defense presence in Colorado and Aurora, boasting a $36.6 billion statewide impact. 

Some are hoping that upward trend will continue.

In two years, the U.S. Department of Defense has added 77,000 jobs to the state — in Arapahoe County, where Buckley Air Force Base is located, there are more than 47,000 jobs directly related to defense. That’s second only to El Paso County’s 121,035 defense job count.

All together, the defense sector has a $36.6 billion economic impact on the state, according to Summit Economics, which completed the study. 

“We are extremely fortunate to live in a state where the economic benefit from the defense-related sector is so significant,” Aurora Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Hougen said in a statement. “We also admire and appreciate the men and women who serve and have served, and how much they contribute every day to strengthening and enriching our communities.”

In 2016, nearly 12,000 people worked at Buckley — that’s up from close to 9,000 in 2014, according to the report. Aurora city leaders are hoping there’ll be more in the future. 

Aurora City Council member Dave Gruber, a former mission support group commander at Buckley, said there’s a lot of potential for Buckley to grow and welcome even more missions. 

“The most important thing for an Air Force base is to have an active runway,” Gruber said, explaining that the city and state has been hard at work buying up land around Buckley to accommodate the current F-16 jets, and hopefully in the future, get the F-35 program.

Development too close to the base could hinder that goal.

Gruber said he feels Buckley and Aurora are in a safe place that when the federal government eventually begins to look at potentially closing bases across the country, Aurora won’t be an option.

And it’s not just the military that’s contributing to the economy. Private companies are contributing, too.

Faustson Tool, located in Arvada, is a major reason why F-35s can fly. The company makes key fuselage components for the jet. 

Lots of federal defense money is flowing in as well. Nearly $3.5 billion DOD contracts and grants were awarded in Arapahoe County in 2016.