The opening of a National Cyber Intelligence Center in Colorado Springs is expected to accelerate efforts to make the city a national hub for cybersecurity that will help the thriving local industry grow more quickly, officials say.
The center, announced Thursday by Gov. John Hickenlooper, will be housed in a former manufacturing plant near the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus and would help businesses, nonprofits and government agencies combat and recover from cyber attacks, help public officials and bureaucrats learn more about cybersecurity and conduct research into cybersecurity threats.
A leadership team of about 15 executives from industry, nonprofits, government agencies and higher education assembled by the Colorado Technology Association and governor's office must determine structure of the center, when it will open, who will operate it and other details.
"This center could become a huge economic driver for Colorado Springs and an incredible catalyst for the great work Colorado Springs has already created, and could springboard that economy back to levels reached during the heyday of the semiconductor industry and beyond," said Erik Mitisek, the technology association's CEO.
The response center "will be operated in partnership with higher education, military, private sector, cybersecurity vendors and suppliers and full-time leading industry professionals to detect, analyze, understand and share threat intelligence - and most importantly, assist with real-time cyber response," according to a concept plan developed by Mitisek.
Repurposing TRW plant
Hickenlooper said Friday that he plans to ask legislators for $8 million to renovate the former TRW manufacturing plant at 3650 N. Nevada Ave. so construction can begin by July. The cost of the project over the next 12-18 months will be $15 million-$20 million with the rest coming from industry and foundations, he said.
The plant, which once employed 1,600 to build electronics systems for the space shuttle and the Air Force's Advanced Tactical Fighter, was vacant for more than a decade before the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs leased the north half of the 135,000-square-foot building in 2011 to operate the Mortgage Solutions Financial Expo Center. Hickenlooper said the cybersecurity center initially would use the south half of the building, but could use the expo center for some of the training programs planned for public officials.
The center could have up to 100 employees when it is at full capacity, Hickenlooper said, but the project over the long term could generate thousands of jobs from "all of the businesses that want to locate near the center. It will be a catalyst for business that wants to be close to this facility and all of the military assets that are already in Colorado Springs." He said chief information officers from some of Colorado's largest technology companies told him that the center is needed and they would support it.
"They said they need someone to call if they are hacked and to notify other companies that they could be vulnerable to the same sort of attack," Hickenlooper said. "We also need a Cyber Institute to train public officials - mayors, governors, City Council members and county commissioners - because they will have to make decisions and allocate resources for response (in the event of a cyber attack). We also want the center to be a hub for research and development in cybersecurity that is connected to all levels of government and the private sector."
Planning began last summer
Plans for the center started coming together last summer, when UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak and newly elected Mayor John Suthers began meeting with a group of business, military, government and educational leaders about ways to expand the cybersecurity industry in the Colorado Springs area. The amount of military and private-sector cybersecurity players in the Pikes Peak region made the Springs a prime location for the center.
"We concluded that Colorado Springs needed to put a big stake in the ground in the cybersecurity area," said Martin Wood, UCCS vice chancellor of university advancement and a key player in helping Shockley-Zalabak and Suthers develop plans to expand the industry in the Springs area. Many of the early efforts were focused on training more workers for the industry, which has not been able to recruit enough employees to support its rapid growth, through undergraduate and graduate programs at UCCS and other higher education institutions in the Springs.
The technology association estimates businesses and government agencies in the state today need 4,000-6,000 workers with expertise in computer networking and cybersecurity, a shortage Mitisek said is expected to grow rapidly in the next several years. Information-technology research firm Gartner Inc. forecast in September that worldwide information security spending would total $75 billion last year, driven by high-profile data breaches that hit retail giant Target Corp. and entertainment and electronics giant Sony Corp.
"This is an opportunity to get in on the ground floor to help companies that are having these issues," said Al Wenstrand, chief economic development officer for the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. "There is a big need among Department of Defense suppliers because of new cybersecurity requirements they must meet."
Wenstrand said Colorado Springs ranks among the top 10 cities in the nation for companies involved in cybersecurity and among the top five in jobs in that industry. Wood said UCCS hopes to expand its cybersecurity programs from hundreds to thousands of students to meet the industry's growing workforce needs.
Since he became mayor, Suthers has touted the city as having "what it takes to become the cybersecurity capital of the nation," according to a statement he released Thursday after Hickenlooper announced the center's coming in his State of the State speech.
"With our concentration of technological experts, both military and civilian, our outstanding education institutions in UCCS and the Air Force Academy and our available workforce, we are ready to embrace the opportunity and look forward to the positive impact that such a designation will have on our city's economic vitality."
Hickenlooper became involved in the project after returning from a trade mission to Japan, China, Turkey and Israel that included meetings with cybersecurity experts, researchers and business leaders in Israel. He met with officials at the University of Tel Aviv and at Israel's National Cyber Bureau, which advises the Israeli government on cybersecurity issues and plans to build a 15-building cyber complex in southern Israel for research, training and offices for business and government agencies.
The governor said that trip became the catalyst to develop a national center in Colorado similar to the Israeli bureau's project, and he asked Mitisek to help him coordinate with the efforts underway in the Springs and lend statewide support to what he believes is a huge opportunity for the city and state.
"We can rally the state and magnify the work and support it. Our role is to support the work that is already going on. It is still a Colorado Springs-led initiative. We are helping to orchestrate and get everyone working in the same direction," Hickenlooper said.
"There are a small number of cities and states trying to get a piece of this pie, so the time element is critical."
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