AURORA | Landing close to $1 billion into the local economy is nothing to sneeze at.
But at Buckley Air Force Base, where that number regularly soared passed the $1 billion mark in recent years, an economic impact that doesn’t quite reach 10 figures can be a bit jarring. Still, base officials say that in 2017, the massive base in Aurora injected more than $914 million into Aurora’s economy, the second year in a row the base passed the $900 million mark.
Col. Troy Endicott, 460th Space Wing commander and the base commander, said during .last week’s annual State of the Base speech that the base provided those economic benefits while making sure soldiers around the world were protected by the base’s missile warning efforts.
“Our primary mission centers on our combat-ready Airmen providing early missile warning, surveillance, and installation operations for America and our allies,” he said.
According to the Air Force’s statistics, the bulk of the base’s economic impact came by way of payroll — more than $550 million. The rest came from contract services and material, equipment and supply purchases.
Endicott said the base’s connection to the surrounding community is a vital part of life at Buckley.
“I know I speak for all whom I represent in saying that we are extremely grateful to have such tremendous support from our federal, state, county and local city officials.”
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.
Still, the base’s importance to the local economy is hard to understate. With 11,000 employees it is Aurora’s largest employer.
Wendy Mitchell, executive director of the Aurora Economic Development council, said the base’s impact on Aurora goes beyond the publicly-released numbers, too. Much of the work at the base is secret and the public never learns about it. Plus, she said, many businesses, including Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, likely would not have facilities in Aurora if it weren’t for the base.
Mayor Steve Hogan echoed those thoughts.
“Buckley AFB is the largest employment center in Aurora, and the operations carried out there are critical to the safety of our country,” said Hogan. “I absolutely love having Buckley AFB in our community.”
Local officials have taken a keen interest in recent years in making sure that Buckley can keep operating the way it does today, with regular jet and helicopter flights as well as the broader space mission.
To do that, officials say it’s crucial that Buckley avoid the sorts of problems that eventually helped lead to the closure of Lowry Air Force Base in 1994, namely nearby development encroaching too close to the base and its loud jets for anyone’s comfort.
Last year, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, asked Congress for an additional $15 million for the base’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program, known as REPI. Through the program, the base purchases parcels of land near its borders, creating a buffer zone that keeps homes and business from getting too close to the base.