Buckley AFB generates almost $1.3 billion for Aurora in 2019, colonel says


AURORA | For the first time in a decade, Buckley Air Force Base has dumped 10-digits worth of dollars into the Aurora economy. 

Buckley injected about $1.28 billion into Aurora in 2019, Col. Devin Pepper said at an annual address Jan. 22. The base claimed responsibility for creating more than 5,500 jobs, and hosting some 14,000 military and civilian personnel at any given time.

Last year marked the first time since the early 2010s that Buckley surpassed the $1 billion impact mark. The base bested its 2018 impact total by nearly $300 million.

For most of the 2000s, Buckley regularly pumped more than $1 billion into the city economy, largely due to frequent construction projects that were required to update the base after its transition from an Air National Guard Base in 2000. But economic injections began sagging at the beginning of last decade and hovered around $900 million for several years.

Kevin Hougen, president and CEO of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, said the 2019 surge in economic activity at Buckley is likely due to a flurry of new construction projects and additional personnel.

“I think it’s the added construction dollars out there,” Hougen said. “And there are more personnel for wages and everything, too, so I think it’s just a combination.”

Just last month, airmen cut the ribbon on a new $10 million arms training facility and firing range. The previous such facility on the base was built in 1985, according to information released by Buckley.

The economic groundswell is slated to continue at Buckley in 2020, Pepper said, thanks in part to the expected construction of a new $34 million operational building to house infrared detection systems.

“We’ll also construct a $5-million large vehicle inspection point and a brand new $5-million visitors gate,” said Pepper, who came to Buckley from Colorado Springs about nine months ago. “Both of these projects will significantly reduce traffic around the base, which I’m sure will be welcome for those commuting to and around Buckley.”

Buckley’s 460th Space Wing, tasked with tracking missile launches the world over, was particularly busy in 2019 due to a 47 percent spike in global missile launches, Pepper said. In total, Buckley missile trackers tallied 930 missile launches and some 30,000 infrared events last year. 

“Space is no longer considered a benign environment for us to operate,” Pepper told a roomful of city and military brass at the Radisson Hotel on South Vaughn Way. “Our adversaries have made space a war fighting domain. U.S. space interests are increasingly threatened as China and Russia develop … non-destructive and destructive weapons.”

Buckley’s operator ground network also monitored U.S. armed forces in Iraq during the recent missile strikes launched from Iran, according to Pepper. 

Aurora’s military base remains poised to grow in the coming years as the U.S. military continues to craft a sixth branch of the military known as U.S. Space Force, Pepper said. President Donald Trump in August revamped U.S. Space Command, laying the groundwork for the new force to take shape.

The command outpost formally launched at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs in September, though only on a temporary basis.

“A basing decision has not been made for the final location for the headquarters for the combatant command,” Pepper said. “But, of course, Buckley was and is one of the locations that’s under consideration.”

No matter where the command is ultimately headquartered, federal emphasis on space ensures Buckley will receive thousands of new service members and contractors in the coming years, according to Hougen. 

“We will gain thousands of employees no matter what, but it’ll take a little bit of time as they build the Space Force up,” he said.

 The new space branch is still awaiting formal congressional approval.