DAY TWO – JULY 10
Dave Kuhns led us on a tour of one of the two United Launch Alliance (ULA) locations in Pueblo: its propulsion shop and test facility. ULA is the 50:50 amalgamation of the noncombat rocket operations of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Its Vulcan rocket project is competing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin initiatives to develop reusable, affordable (relatively speaking) vehicle to transport commercial payloads—like communications satellites—into space. The adaptation of innovative material and fueling components are critical success factors for the Vulcan project, and logically sourced in an area that boasts a steel town history and a 120-megawatt solar energy farm (the largest in Colorado). Pueblo also sources my personal rocket fuel fave: Solar Roast Coffee, the only commercially solar-powered roaster in the world. Who knew?
We shared stories with veterans who wore more scars than medals at the Spanish Peaks Veterans Center. Scratch marks, nervous tics, and an old couple holding hands who teased one another about whether they were actually boyfriend/girlfriend. The woman crocheted while we talked and offered me a headband she’d made. Sweet; painful.
Our drive to Alamosa took us past wildfire destruction: Aspen trees survived better than evergreens. Although unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, can interfere with wildfire emergency operations (Colorado lawmakers have introduced legislation making unauthorized drone use under such conditions a felony offense), other uses for drones include vehicular traffic monitoring, search and rescue, agricultural applications, rounding up horses, atmospheric research, and film-making. UAS industry representatives explained why the San Luis Valley is especially attractive to drone hobbyists and business professionals like Rising Phoenix Aerial Photography: 8200 spare miles of air space cleared by FAA to 15,000 feet of elevation for testing and training. Colorado is #1 per capita for UAS; the US Air Force is looking at space-based heat sensors, and SBIRs are coming out of Boulder. We discussed business and maintenance challenges: matching those who need drone capabilities with those who are certified drone operators, for example (I suggested an Über-style app for UAS). Local high schools are putting together programs that are capturing the imagination of young people.
The community dinner turned out to be an extension of the economic development conversation started in Alamosa. Colorado State Representative Donald Valdez (like our picture with him on his Facebook page!) commented on the need to build analytic capacity to make meaning of the sensor data gathered by UAS—and collaborate to grow communities and business. Mayor pro tem Paula Medina described the need for physical transportation so that children can participate in extracurricular activities like the maker space at the Alamosa STEAM Shop. Community members believe in collaboration. The San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (SLVREC), second oldest electric cooperative in Colorado, sponsors student scholarships and youth leadership camp participation. SLVREC’s Andrea Oaks-Jaramillo described the efforts being made by local broadband provider Viaero to roll out wireless broadband throughout the valley so that citizens can benefit from distance learning, remote medical learning, and emergency communications, among others.
The energy and commitment “at the edges” were palpable and inspirational. Here are people who know they are living in paradise and are determined to build robust businesses so they can continue to live there—and thrive. They are not waiting, or even hoping, for a large manufacturer to make a headquarters move to the valley. As our videographer (and Walter Cronkite mentee) Brian Olson observed: “Do what you want during the day and just don’t miss the sunset behind the Sangre de Cristo mountains.”
Day Two Take-Aways
- The digital divide is broad in this more rural part of Colorado—connectivity was intermittent from hotel rooms and along the road. The State is committing $100 million over five years to bring high-speed internet to underserved areas. One of the large incumbents is targeted to receive the majority of the funds.
- Is a community-centered action plan for improving rural services more relevant and thus preferable to one that is administered from the capitol? Would it help to identify the economic development inhibitors and enablers before distributing large sums of taxpayer money?
- How can more Universal Service Fund (USF) monies be channeled to rural communities by the FCC to support broadband buildout by small, locally invested service providers?
- Sometimes it’s not the message you’re sending that matters but, rather, the message you’re receiving. Are we too focused on taking our message out to the edges and not on taking in messages from others?
Day Two Video Wrap
Barbarous Neologistic Jargon
UAS or UAV = Unmanned aircraft systems or unmanned aerial vehicle. These acronyms commonly refer to drones, for which a pilot’s license is no longer required for commercial operation (perhaps because there were simply too few qualified drone operators to meet demand, which begs the question of how to encourage development of that particular talent pool given relaxed standards).
STEAM = Science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics. The expansion of STEM through the addition of “arts” supports development of innovative capacity (e.g., maker movements) and carries benefits like the following: removal of inhibition/fear of “wrong” answers; focus on process; practice of observation and context; spatial awareness.