Craig resident Ray Beck sees no reason why Northwest Colorado shouldn’t be a part of the aviation industry, one which insiders say is soaring within the state.
Venues in both Moffat and Routt counties played host to the Colorado Space Business Roundtable Wednesday and Thursday as part of the second annual Aerospace Business Development Road Trip.
A crowd of about 50 — including Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid and Colorado House of Representatives candidate Chuck McConnell, among others — gathered Thursday morning at Colorado Northwestern Community College to hear an array of speakers discuss the ever-changing world of aircrafts and related topics.
Maj. Gen. Jay Lindell, a retired member of the United States Air Force and a representative of Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, cited Colorado as the third largest aerospace economy in the nation with the potential to grow to No. 1.
The rise of the UAV or UAS — unmanned aerial vehicles or systems — has given way to more and more uses for the items known colloquially as drones, including purposes specific to the region, such as surveying, energy exploration and emergency services.
Kinkaid said he was curious to learn more about such functions and how they could benefit Northwest Colorado.
“With things like wildfires, that could be really useful,” he said.
Dave Gordon, director of Colorado Division of Aeronautics, noted how many communities perceive Denver International Airport to be an economic driver only for the Front Range despite the fact that it also serves smaller ones throughout the state, including Yampa Valley Regional Airport. Many in attendance also toured YVRA later that afternoon.
Colorado currently has 74 public use airports, 13 strictly for commercial purposes.
In addition, there are more than 400 private airstrips of varying sizes all over the state.
“There are about 4,000 or 5,000 aircraft based in the state and a little over 2,400 pilots,” he said. “Aviation is big in Colorado.”
Though it’s big, it’s not exactly a universal industry in all areas of the Centennial State, but those speaking maintained it certainly could be. Finding opportunities for communities of all sorts to take advantage of what the business offers is the key, whether it’s bringing manufacturing work to smaller areas or starting at the ground level.
Kelly Hall, development director for The Colorado Education Initiative, said a greater basis in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in schools can have a strong impact on aviation and related workforce demographics.
“It’s critical to get into the local talent pipeline,” she said. “We need to be growing the talent here instead of importing it from an outside state.”
Beck said he would like to see an aerospace program offered at CNCC's Craig campus to complement the aviation program already within CNCC’s Rangely campus.
“It’s all about getting that word out to create jobs, and if we could get more students from out of state to our college on the hill, it could have a domino effect,” he said.
The topic of flight is one close to Beck’s heart, as an appointee to the Colorado Aeronautics Board earlier this year, having worked with both YVRA and Craig-Moffat County Airport for years. Also a significant contributor to the work of CLUB 20, Beck added he is excited about the possibilities of the future that increased aviation development could bring to the two counties, financially, educationally or otherwise.
“I think the sky’s the limit,” he said.
Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.