Nebraska’s political, business, educational and military leaders have Zoomed their pitch to bring the U.S. Space Command headquarters to Offutt Air Force Base, arguing that a unique blend of academic, public and private support make Offutt the right choice.
Now, it’s time to wait.
The six communities that are finalists for the headquarters — and the 1,400 jobs that come with it — each had one hour on Monday or Tuesday to make their case by video teleconference to the Air Force committee that will recommend a site. Offutt’s, on Tuesday, was the fifth to present.
In addition to Offutt, the other finalists announced in November are in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Cape Canaveral, Florida; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Huntsville, Alabama; and San Antonio.
Offutt’s bid won an endorsement Wednesday from the military website RealClearDefense, which noted that Offutt is the only operational base among the finalists while offering high quality of life and low cost of living along with strong community and educational support.
“To prevent another ‘Sputnik’ moment in space, Omaha makes the obvious choice for SPACECOM and the future of our Nation’s security,” wrote David Craig, the site’s editor.
Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett is expected to announce the winner by Jan. 15.
Gov. Pete Ricketts and Sen. Deb Fischer headlined the presentation, which was organized by Tim Burke, chairman of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
Ricketts said the pitch emphasized the high quality of life in the Omaha area, the collaboration between state and local entities from both government and the private sector and the area’s long history of public-private partnerships like the one that delivered the Department of Veterans Affairs new ambulatory clinic earlier this year within budget and ahead of schedule.
Ricketts showed a short film and presented letters from the governors and adjutant generals of at least six nearby states supporting the project.
“We want to make this more than just a Nebraska mission,” he said.
Fischer stressed the legislative delegation’s work to secure funding for the military commands already at Offutt, including the 55th Wing, the U.S. Strategic Command, the 557th Weather Wing, and the 595th Command and Control Group.
Col. Gavin Marks, the 55th Wing’s commander, told the committee the base has plenty of capacity for the Space Command’s expected 400,000-square-foot headquarters building — even after the devastating 2019 flood. He said the Air Force will have invested about $3 billion in new construction or renovation of the base by the time SpaceCom is slated to move in 2027.
University of Nebraska President Ted Carter, a retired Navy admiral, described the educational support for the military here, including a new alliance with Kansas State, Purdue and the University of North Dakota to support SpaceCom programs and research.
Carter said Kansas University and Wichita State University have since asked about joining the space partnership as well.
University of Nebraska at Omaha professor Ginamarie Ligon, who heads a new center at UNO focused on counterterrorism studies, said she moved here in 2012 with her Air Force officer husband.
She said they expected to move on when his tour at Offutt was over, but they fought to stay because they love the community, the neighborhoods and the schools.
“Now we are Nebraskans,” Ligon said.
Bellevue Mayor Rusty Hike cited community efforts like a large annual Veterans Day parade and a picnic, and mutual aid agreements with Offutt for police and fire-rescue services.
John Henderson, assistant Air Force secretary for installations, environment and energy — who lives in Omaha — heads the site selection committee.
He said all bids are being rated on a 100-point scale:
Mission (40 points), including a qualified workforce and closeness to space entities.
Capacity (30 points), such as facility, parking, communications and force protection.
Cost to the Defense Department (15 points), including infrastructure costs and locality pay.
Community (15 points), such as quality of schools and cost of living.
Colorado Springs hosted a previous incarnation of U.S. Space Command from 1985-2002.
Then its functions were moved to Offutt when Space Command became part of StratCom’s portfolio. Colorado Springs was named the temporary headquarters when SpaceCom was reestablished as a separate combatant command in August 2019.
But Burke is confident the Nebraska group made a strong case for locating SpaceCom here.
“This is a community that really supports the military. Omaha stacks up really strong,” he said. “Now it’s time for it to come home.”