PHOTOS BY NICOLE JORGENSON
You might call Colorado Springs the military’s home.
Neal Rappaport, retired Air Force Colonel and current Professor of Economics at Colorado College said, “After I was deployed, the community always welcomed me back and supported me whole-heartedly, and that really makes a difference.”
Indeed, one of the defining features of the city of Colorado Springs is the presence of five US military installations, four of which are the largest employers in town. The bases, which employ 41,672 people — 12,454 of whom are civilians — provide a substantial economic boost to the city.
However, recent government cuts on military spending, including the Budget Control Act of 2011, could bring dramatic changes to the role of the military in the Colorado Springs community.
The largest military base in Colorado Springs is Fort Carson, a training facility that occupies 137,000 acres just south of Colorado Springs. The base was founded in 1942, just three weeks after Pearl Harbor, and currently houses 17,000 soldiers and employs 3,400 civilians.
Colorado Springs is also home to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Peterson and Shriever Air Force Bases, and the United States Air Force Academy.
“Put it this way: one out of every three people employed here is a military person or is directly supported by defense dollars,” said David Bamberger, a local economist wrote on a website about the military here.
After 9/11, boosts in military spending by the United States government meant that Colorado Springs’ economy was bolstered by the expansion of the five installations.
This economic boost is a result of the creation of civilian jobs at the bases and the contributions of soldiers and veterans to the city’s economy.
“Civilian jobs at the bases really run the gamut, from technical jobs to intelligence analysts to teachers and less skilled jobs,” said Rappaport.
“There are really jobs for everyone.”
In addition, those who stay in the area after their deployment contribute as well.
“So many people stay,” Rappaport said. “Colorado Springs is a great place to be stationed, so families will buy houses, retire, send their kids to school here.”
The economic well being of Colorado Springs and military spending nationwide are intertwined, which is why many are concerned about how recent cuts in defense spending and the current budget crisis will affect the economy of Colorado Springs.
Although military spending peaked after 9/11, it has decreased in recent years.
According to a study by the Southern Colorado Economic Forum, a publication by the UCCS College of Business, “Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office project military budget cuts will amount to $487 billion by 2021.”
Although the effects of recent cuts are unclear, the military presence here has already seen some decline.
“Active duty and civilian employment at military establishments decreased to 55,395 in 2012 from 61,501 in 2011,” the study continues. “This was a loss of 6,106 or 9.9 percent.”
This decrease is a cause for concern, as the city has relied for so long on the economic activity generated by the region’s military bases, and has not succeeded in diversifying the economy.
“Fundamentally, we’ve relied on the bases for so long that when the defense declines, it will be troublesome,” Rappaport said. “After 9/11 we got spoiled when spending almost doubled, and we haven’t succeeded in finding other solutions for the economy.”
Military defunding has hurt the economy in the Springs before, another reason why local economists and business moguls are worried. City leaders too have noted that the local economy’s reliance on military dollars could become problematic in the future.
At a recent town meeting, Colorado Springs mayor Steve Bach acknowledged that more must be done for the city’s economy, and recent proposed plans for The City for Champions — Bach’s controversial push to build hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new infrastructure downtown — are geared towards diversifying the region’s economy.
Despite the concern, Rappaport thinks that the city can continue to rely on military spending to some extent.
“The bases aren’t going anywhere,” he said. “The question at hand is whether we can diversify our economy and adapt to the defense cuts.”
Anna Kelly, Guest Writer