State study of military impacts has Buckley set for possible BRAC attack

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    AURORA | Keep on keeping on — for now. That was the conclusion of a new study conducted by the Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs that analyzed the economic impact of Colorado’s military operations released on May 28.

    Compiled by a consortium of economic research firms, the study determined that the state sees upwards of $27 billion in annual output from Department of Defense spending, and that Colorado is poised to remain an armed services bastion in coming years, particularly in the arena of aerospace. The $300,000 study said the state receives about 7 percent of the country’s total aerospace workforce.


    Aurora’s Buckley Air Force Base, home to the 460th Space Wing charged with global missile detection, was painted in largely rosy tones throughout the 82-page report. The base, which directly employed 13,000 people and boasted a $900-million economic impact to Aurora last year, was touted for its ongoing construction projects, lack of encroachment issues and proximity to Denver International Airport. Buckley has doubled down on construction in recent years, and is currently in the midst of revamping several on-base medical facilities.

    “I think Buckley comes out looking particularly indispensable,” said state Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, of the base’s portrait in the study. “But I don’t think we can take anything for granted. It’s just really uncertain in a larger national context.”

    The study is the fruit of a Senate bill Carroll and Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, co-sponsored last year. Carroll said her reason for drafting the legislation was to get out in front of potential base realignments and closures in coming years.

    “The value of this is that it helps identify and quantify what the strategic national benefits are and the economic impact is for the region and state,” Carroll said. “When we have to make the case for how Colorado is going to fare in the BRAC process, we now have some tools to fight for Buckley.”

    The last congressionally approved BRAC commission took place in 2005, and legislators in Washington, D.C., have thwarted efforts to hold another through at least 2017. However, the study points to the possibility of so-called “micro-BRAC” cuts next year. American military bases currently boast an excess capacity of about 25 percent, and shrinking that number could result in a federal savings of $2 billion annually, according to comments made last year by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, which are referenced in the study.

    Despite rumors of closings, Col. John Wagner, Buckley’s top commanding officer, made clear in his annual State of the Base speech this January that he believes Buckley’s BRAC vulnerability remains low.

    “I’m not concerned about closure,” Wagner told reporters following his speech. “I’m really trying to figure out how we can adequately accommodate expansion, because we can absorb more missions and more people, but we want to do it smartly.”

    On top of the 13,000 people the base directly employs, Buckley supported nearly 4,000 indirect jobs in 2014, which contributed a roughly $200-million boost to the local economy.

    “I think Buckley comes out looking particularly indispensable,” said state Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, of the base’s portrait in the study. “But I don’t think we can take anything for granted. It’s just really uncertain in a larger national context.”

    Arapahoe County as a whole also claimed the most DOD contracts in the state in 2014, according to the new impact study, with a total topping $3.1 billion. That’s nearly $1 billion more than El Paso and Weld county contracts combined, according to the study.

    Even with Wagner’s confidence in Buckley’s resiliency to potential cuts, the study alluded to workforce reductions at the base.

    “If DOD wanted to reduce (or) consolidate units within the state, or relocate units out of state, Buckley AFB and Schriever AFB might be vulnerable to losing organizations or become subject to force structure reductions and mission realignments,” the report stated. “Colorado could be adversely impacted if the affected, departing personnel were not replaced.”

    Carroll said that in order to further bolster Buckley’s long-term vitality, she plans to embark on public outreach efforts trumpeting the importance of Aurora’s military bulwark and the positive findings of the study.

    “We need a bit of an education move at this point to make sure that the federal delegation knows how important Buckley is,” she said. “We can’t assume the report speaks for itself — it’s the first step, not the last step.”