The days of Buckley Air Force Base injecting more than $1 billion into the local economy every year seem to have passed.
But the sprawling base remains a crucial cog in the city’s economy, and last year it accounted for more than $900 million in economic impact, according to data released last month at the annual State of the Base speech.
Col. David Miller Jr., 460th Space Wing commander, said the base’s hulking influence on the city’s economy happens all while the airmen there are keeping watch around the clock for missiles and other threats from around the globe.
And, Miller said, beyond the economic benefits the base brings to the community, it’s crucial to the Air Force that military members at the base are integrated into Aurora.
“We are members of this community,” Miller said, according to a statement on the base’s website. “My Airmen live next door to you, their families live next door to you, so it’s important to us that we establish a good readiness posture and that we are welcome to our neighbors.”
In the years after the Air Force turned Buckley into a full-fledged base in 2000, it regularly topped the $1 billion mark in terms of economic impact. That was in large part because setting up the base required a massive construction boom that employed thousands of contractors every year.
As the base has filled in and much of the required construction there has been completed, that break-neck growth has slowed.
Construction costs at the base in 2016 were just $15 million, compared to more than $60 million the year before.
Still, the base saw some crucial projects under construction in 2016.
Chief among those was the new dental clinic on base, the first clinic of its type at Buckley since World War II.
Before the clinic opened in January, airmen needing dental care had to leave the base, often taking them away from their work for hours.
“It’s about ensuring that we have a ready force,” Maj. Gen. Roosevelt Allen, medical operations and research director, and chief of the Dental Corps Office of the Surgeon General in Washington D.C., said in a story about the clinic on the base’s website. “A force that is able to pick up, pack up, deploy and go wherever they are needed. And for a number of the warriors here, that mission is right here at home base. With this facility, we will be able to support them.”
Buckley’s clinic is the first new dental clinic the Air Force has built from the ground up in more than 30 years.
“The never fail warning and surveillance missions that are conducted here at Buckley demand a continuous high-level of medical readiness that would be impossible before today,” said Col. Matthew Hanson, 460th MDG commander.
The clinic will have 21 active duty employees.
In all, the base employees more than 11,000 people.
Dick Hinson, senior vice president of the Aurora Economic Development Council, said year after year, regardless of whether it clears the $1 billion mark, the base is a crucial piece of the region’s economy.
“I don’t think that $1 billion is a magic number,” he said.
With 11,000 employees, Buckley is the city’s largest employer, according to AEDC.
But Hinson said the impact goes well beyond that. Other companies with offices in Aurora — including Raytheon, which has more than 2,300 employees, and Northrop Grumman with 750 — likely wouldn’t be in Aurora if not for the base.
“You’ve also got this community of private companies providing support,” he said.
While other bases, including the old Lowry Air Force Base on the border of Denver and Aurora, eventually had to close in part because the neighborhoods around them encroached, Hinson said Buckley officials have done a good job of carving out deals with adjacent communities to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“We don’t want to allow encroachment to threaten the base,” he said.