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Aerospace expert: jobs come second to vision

Aerospace industry veteran Jim Crocker points out that Colorado ranks third nationally in the number of people employed in aerospace, behind only California and Florida with about 54,000 aerospace workers. And Colorado is No. 1 from a per capita standpoint.

But Crocker, the keynote speaker Dec. 1 at the seventh annual Colorado Space Roundup held at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, said that as important as jobs are to a robust aerospace industry, focusing solely on employee numbers tends to overshadow something he believes is more important.

"Jobs are incredibly important to the economy, but jobs should come second to the vision," said Crocker, vice president and general manager/sensing and exploration systems for Lockhead Martin Space Systems Co. "The vision has to be the thing that leads to the jobs. If we don't have a vision for where we're going in aerospace, not just in Colorado but in the nation, it just degenerates into a story about jobs."

The daylong program, presented by the Colorado Space Business Roundtable and Colorado Space Coalition, was a networking event that also provided an update on the Colorado space industry.

Panels during the day included a group of Colorado engineering students discussing their aerospace aspirations and showcasing current projects; an aerospace and defense update from the offices of Colorado's congressional delegation; a panel discussion on aerospace business recruitment and retention in Colorado and other states; and an industry update from Colorado's top aerospace contractors, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Sierra Nevada Corp. and United Launch Alliance.

Crocker talked about how past aerospace leadership was sparked by a vision, particularly that led by President John F. Kennedy, and it bolstered United States' prestige and power in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Now he says, "We as a nation desperately need a grand, overarching vision of space exploration, on the military side as well as on the civil side. There are 60 nations that actually have spacecraft in orbit around the Earth," he said, pointing out that Iran became the 60th in 2009 and that North Korea, South Korea and Brazil plan to become the next.

"If you listened to some of the debates going on in Congress, we don't have an overarching, grand space policy, so we have lots of discussions about what could be done, and it changes. A new administration comes in and it changes. Congress changes, and our space policy changes.

"We have the same problem on Wall Street," he said. "Everybody's looking for the next quarter's returns. We really need a policy that stretches across not only administrations and not only across congressional changes, but stretches across decades. We have an enormous amount of resources that are going in, but when we're constantly changing directions, we waste those resources."

Crocker said that to understand the importance of space leadership, you need to look at Britain's control of the oceans in the 17th century and early 18th century.

"The British saw that by controlling the oceans they would basically guarantee their ability to project not only military power but also project commercial power in the world," Crocker said. "The United States figured that out in the 18th century. We became a great power for no less reason than we figured out that being able to project power on the oceans would allow us to become a great power."

Crocker said Kennedy's wisdom was in understanding that space was the new ocean on which to project the country's power and prestige.

"He saw how culturally important this would be, that the United States would be energized, that our next generation would be motivated to take the hard classes in science and engineering," Crocker said. "I can tell you having been there that you have to have a reason to pull those late nights (studying). You've got to have a really good reason to want to understand differential equations and complex variables. If there's no ‘there' there on the other side, you're going to go do something different, because it's really hard to do that."

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Mike Taylor

Mike Taylor is the editor of ColoradoBiz magazine. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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