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Colorado Springs Platform for Innovation

Today approximately one-third of the Pikes Peak region’s $27 billion economy is military-related. Based on upcoming Department of Defense budget cuts, Merritt and the Business Alliances’ 200-member Military Affairs Council and 50-member Aerospace & Defense Team recognize that the community faces a powerful economic threat.

Sequestration will be a concern through 2013 and 2014, with up to 8500 civilian workers facing furloughs of one day a week or up to a 20-percent pay cut. Fortunately earlier this year the DOD announced the addition of 4,000 new jobs in defense-focused cyber intelligence, offsetting some job cuts and creating new opportunities at Air Force Space Command and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station personnel.

While defense sector jobs are threatened, Merritt is convinced the city is well positioned to take the lead in more than one new arena.

Several aerospace companies with a local presence, for example, have partnered with statewide firms on an FAA request for proposal (RFP) to bring one of six Unmanned Aerial Systems test sites to the Colorado Front Range. While the group is competing with 50 other bidders, if chosen, the Colorado site would have significant impact on local companies.

In addition the Western Cyber Exchange (WCX), a Colorado Springs-based business-and-university-led effort hopes to do what a mission-restricted DOD can’t: lead and shape the creation of an entirely new cyber security industry.

Headed by founders Mike Semmens and former military and Department of Homeland Security cyber expert Doug DePeppe, the WCX has attracted about 40 member organizations and is working with a handful of other research and development centers in Boston, Huntsville and at Auburn University. Their goal: establish a program to protect non-defense related sectors such as utilities, banks, universities, pipelines and technical operations from cyber terrorism, theft of intellectual property or data hacking.

The organization’s vision involves the creation of a series of collaborative operating centers or “nodes” designed for secure, intra-communications between member companies, universities and state or municipal departments. The program would enable users access to a safe data-sharing platform and provide a way to track and fix hacking or virus threats.

The idea has already attracted interest from national companies that already have defense or DHS cyber expertise.

“The Mitre Corporation here, for example, has played a big role in establishing a base platform–CRITS (Collaborative Research Into Threats)–where domestic computer data can be shared in a secure environment,” Semmens says, adding that the city’s profile as a recognized strategic military cyber center gives it an advantage as it moves into domestic data security.

“In spite of political and economic challenges, the Pikes Peak region can play a leadership role in cyber security and aerospace,” says Merritt.” We’re looking at all opportunities.”