Gary Arnold

Gary Arnold

Ask any economist and they can point to historical milestones where output soared and economies took off. They signal pivotal events in the history of global economics. It would be fair to even call them launching pads.

The mid-century Space Race between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., for example, yielded considerable employment opportunities. Countless skilled workers were trained in technical fields, including telecommunications, micro-technology, computer science and even solar power. By the end, the U.S. had spent about $25 billion on the program — well over $100 billion in today's dollars.

We still see signs of the Space Race today in Colorado. It’s in the hills of Littleton at the Lockheed Martin, Waterton Canyon site. It’s in the mountains of Colorado Springs off I-25 at NORAD. And it's in Boulder’s “Aerospace Alley,” where scientists and venture capitalists align interests for the regular, future delivery of goods and people to outer space someday.

The Rocky Mountain region has the opportunity to emerge a leader again with another generational milestone.

If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approves the Jordan Cove LNG project near the coast of Oregon, it could be a boom for Colorado. Yes, you read that correctly, a project nearly 1,400 miles northwest could mean huge work opportunities to the members of Pipefitters Local Union #208 in Denver.

Colorado is home to four United Association Locals and thousands of pipefitters, those who install, assemble, fabricate, maintain and repair mechanical piping systems. If the $10 billion Jordan Cove LNG project is approved, some 150-plus United Association (UA) local labor organizations could be tapped for work. To give you a sense, that’s more than half of the total 275 UA locals in Canada and the United States.

Trained pipefitters can earn well into the six-figure category while supporting families and the local communities they live in. That’s 1,500 high-earning jobs that pass through, or are based here, that deploy and return when their work is completed. And all pipefitters are trained and prepared for a lifetime of projects which creates another generation of workers, apprentices and journeymen. Some scoff at the idea (or significance) of temporary construction jobs, but you need look no further than the Front Range over the last decade to see what a healthy construction industry can do. It’s all a launching point, much like the space program was for our parents or grandparents.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this reminder. We used to be a nation that built things and not everything can live in the cloud.

We also must remember that the Front Range — and the metro area and its continued boom — doesn’t help all Coloradans. There are many rural areas in our state and throughout the West that have not experienced or benefited from what we have in the Denver area. The western half of Colorado (10 counties and counting) is in support of Jordan Cove. Western governors and tribes, too. And so are my union brothers and sisters.

Just like the Space Race, energy is a national security and independence issue, as well as a foreign aid project which can deliver low-carbon LNG to energy-poor nations helping to raise their quality of living. But for a variety of reasons, the project has been bogged down in political mud and a vocal minority has heavily influenced its sense of urgency and merits.

A ripple started here in Denver could send a tidal wave to our allies in Eastern Europe and the Eastern Pacific. It’s a domino effect that starts in Colorado, continues to the shores of Oregon and beyond, from the wellhead to burner tip, and everything in between.

Gary Arnold is business manager of Pipefitters Local Union 208 in Denver.

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