City of South Tucson leads regional team to compete for US Space Command Headquarters

September 11, 2020

Pima County and other regional partners, led by the City of South Tucson, have entered the competition to become the site of the headquarters for America’s space combatant command.  

U.S. Space Command (not to be confused with the newest branch of the military – U.S. Space Force) is a war-fighting headquarters established to direct the activities of service branches that operate in the space domain. The Department of Defense plans to locate the new headquarters by 2025, which includes the addition of at least 1,600 jobs paying more than $100,000 a year.   

“We are a compelling candidate,” said Assistant County Administrator John Voorhees. “The community boasts a number of space-related businesses ranging from young startup companies like Freefall Aerospace to stalwart defense contractors like Raytheon Technologies.” 

Voorhees, who also is the County’s Director of Aerospace and Defense Initiatives, noted Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is widely respected in the defense world and has been named the “best base in the Air Force” twice in the past six years. 

In May the Department of the Air Force announced a nationwide search for headquarters for US Space Command (HQUSSPACECOM), and South Tucson, the City of Tucson, and Pima County collaborated in the application process. The application passed the initial screening phase and has progressed to the second phase along with locations in 26 other states around the country. 

Criteria for the proposed headquarters include being located within 25 miles of a military installation; ranking among the top 150 most populous Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the country; and scoring at least 50 out of 100 points on the American Association of Retired Persons’ Livability Index. The City of South Tucson is the region’s only municipality that satisfies all of these requirements.  

Additional criteria are based on the quality and availability of infrastructure, the capacity of the nearby military base to absorb additional personnel, and the existence of space related industry.

The team proposed Pima County’s Aerospace Research Campus (ARC) as the site of Space Command headquarters because of the many geographic, logistical, and synergistic advantages the area holds. 

The ARC is a master planned industrial park south of Raytheon Technologies Missile and Defense Systems and Tucson International Airport, between Interstates 10 and 19. The ARC provides more than 400 acres available for development of defense, technology, aerospace, and manufacturing business.  

The area provides proximity to ground, air, and rail transportation. In addition, sparse residential development and minimal environmental concerns in the surrounding areas make the ARC a promising location for industries with the potential to grow.

“Over the last several years, the region has made significant public and private infrastructure investments helping make Tucson competitive in attracting new businesses to the area,” said Greg Hitt, Pima County’s Program Manager for Planning and Utility Coordination. 

Regional investment includes more than $64 million dollars in infrastructure improvements in and around the ARC, Hitt noted.   

Space Command would bring an additional Department of Defense function to the region, adding to the already strong presence of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the Air and Army National Guard and Naval Reserve; as well as defense contractors like Raytheon, which is Pima County’s largest private employer.  

“The U.S. Space Command headquarters will not only employ 1,600 staff, but it will act as a magnet to attract the presence of all the major private sector space contractors to our region, increase commercial air travel for Tucson International Airport and provide increased research and employment opportunities for the highly qualified graduates of the University of Arizona,” said John Moffatt, Pima County’s Economic Development Director. 

South Tucson officials were hopeful for the ripple effects throughout the regional economy Space Command would have. 

“Space Command is a highly prized, hi-tech military component that could bring nearly 2,000 STEM-related jobs to the Tucson metro area generating a new market for educational and technological services and research at institutions such as the University of Arizona and Pima Community College as well as inspiring private sector service growth in the local community,” said Bob Teso, Mayor of South Tucson.

University officials also expressed optimism that the Tucson region’s physical and economic assets make the Space Command application a strong candidate for the new headquarters. 

“We are blessed with attractive geography and climate, a thriving space-related business community, and the unique strengths of the University of Arizona,” said Stephen Fleming, with the University of Arizona Space Business Roundtable. “From managing billion-dollar space missions, to observing and predicting the behavior of objects in orbit, to educating one of the country’s largest groups of space scientists and engineers, UArizona students, faculty, and staff can help build the backbone of the United States Space Command now and for decades to come.” 

If the region survives the next round of competition, the US Air Force will schedule site visits in late November or early December of 2020.  The Department of Defense is expected to announce a decision on the location of Space Command headquarters in early 2021.