Shifts to remote work and the proliferation of technology, such as cloud computing, has increased the threat and complexity of cyber attacks against organisations. 

In the US metro area of Colorado Springs, aerospace, defence and IT companies provide a range of cybersecurity capabilities for military and commercial purposes.

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Dirk Draper, the president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation (EDC), discusses with fDi how to develop a cybersecurity ecosystem and opportunities arising from the new space economy.

Q: How has the pandemic impacted Colorado Springs?

A: It’s a tale of two economies. We have very strong professional, technical and scientific services sectors, which includes aerospace and defence, financial services and related sectors. They not only survived, but thrived, during the pandemic. 

Many of our aerospace and defence companies have openings that they cannot fill. But they performed very strongly, with a backlog of contracts, and were able to move to remote and dispersed delivery of contracts very easily. 

The successful shift to remote work was the same in financial services. We have around 7000 employees at companies like Ford Motor Credit, Progressive Insurance, T. Rowe Price and others, who are based here. 

The other side of our economy was very hard hit, which was the experience economy, including hospitality, lodging, restaurants and retails. Tourism has always been a very strong part of Colorado Springs’s economy and makeup — in a sense we were founded as a tourist city. 

The pandemic also really highlighted the vulnerabilities in our security system. Cybersecurity will play an even more important role because of remote work and people logging into home networks. 

We have got around 150 companies doing cybersecurity work in Colorado Springs, ranging from military to personal services. They have done well during the pandemic with increased demand for their services.

Q: What worries you most about cyber attacks from an economic development perspective?

A: It’s already been proven that no matter the industry or the size of the company, everyone is vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks. It is pervasive and real. It’s such a dispersed threat that it’s difficult to know how to defend against that. 

It is such a distraction to business and I think, depending on their industry, it can do such damage to their reputation as well. The Chamber and EDC earlier this year completed a three-year grant with the Office of Economic Adjustment, which is a Department of Defence Agency, that worked on helping a handful of cybersecurity companies diversify their services.

Some companies were able to diversify their marketing approaches. Others were able to commercialise a product that they’ve been working on. It gave us, as community leaders, a greater understanding of the facts on which to base decisions about the cybersecurity industry. 

Q: What do you think is needed to develop an ecosystem of cybersecurity companies?

A: One of the things that really helped us is that we’re one of the few cities in the country with five educational institutions that were certified to provide cybersecurity training.  

It’s an interesting industry in the skill sets they seek, which are, in a sense, rather non-traditional. It doesn’t take a PhD in computer science to be able to succeed in that area, and they’re looking for people with a background in humanities to understand the nature and the roots of cybersecurity attacks. 

The industry is far from mature in the skills that are required and opportunities for employees to enter the industry. We have learnt that there are nuances between public, private and military, and different industries in terms of what the requirements for cybersecurity are. We have tried to identify a niche in Colorado Springs in the military cybersecurity area.

Q: Colorado Spring also has a well-developed aerospace and defence industry. What role does your community play in the ‘new space economy’?

A: We’re on the cusp of significant growth in the industry. Business operations of nearly every sector, especially financial, are becoming more dependent on satellite-driven technology. The efficiency and nimbleness of the private sector, and their ability to speed ahead of their public sector partners, is a fascinating development in the industry. 

If you’re in the US and you’re driving around using your mobile phone and GPS, you’re working through a satellite network that is operated from Schriever Space Force Base here in Colorado Springs. This is indicative of the strengths we have here in space operations.

Dirk Draper is the president and CEO of Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation 

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