A Washington, D.C., ideas laboratory recognized Agile Space Industries, a Durango-based aerospace company, Tuesday for its efforts to support and diversify the city’s economy.
The bipartisan laboratory, Economic Innovation Group, featured three developments nationwide that were helping to create growth in small or low-income economies. As Durango seeks to diversify its economy beyond tourism and resource extraction, Agile Space Industries is helping it along the way.
“I see the community growing with interesting and diverse people coming from all over the country to relocate,” said Jeff Max, CEO of Agile Space Industries in the EIG case study. “And hopefully they are coming to start businesses like Agile, or work for businesses like Agile, and 10 to 15 years from now, we’ll have a thriving rural innovative business community that isn’t reliant solely on tourism as its foundation.”
State leaders designated Durango, along with 8,700 low-income census tracts nationwide, as an “Opportunity Zone” in 2018. The designation makes individuals and companies eligible for certain tax benefits and financing.
Agile Space Industries, which designs, manufactures and tests integrated aerospace propulsion systems, was able to tap into those financing options to accelerate its expansion in 2021, the EIG case study said.
Agile received several million dollars of Opportunity Zone funding financed through the Center on Rural Innovation’s Innovation Fund. Max declined to give a specific amount Tuesday, citing nondisclosure agreements.
The financing was “foundational” to its growth during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, according to the case study.
In 2021, Agile anticipates increasing its employee base from 20 to 65 employees, according to the case study.
Because the company is committed to training and hiring local residents, that means more jobs for the local economy. Already, more Agile employees have graduated from Fort Lewis College than any other college or university.
Agile will also attract highly-skilled engineers to Durango, new residents who will patronize local businesses and invest in the town, the case study said. EIG estimated the company would be able to indirectly add 209 jobs, based on a multiplier tool developed by the Economic Policy Institute.
The company also plans to train 24 members of underrepresented populations over the next four years and launch a workplace vocational training program with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe in 2021.
Agile was also recently featured in a video produced by the Virginia-based center that focused on entrepreneurial rural businesses and highlighted Southwest Colorado’s increasing economic diversity.
Max said Durango’s opportunities for entrepreneurship are “like a whole new world” compared with 1997, when he arrived in the community. Then, the economy was more centered on tourism, internet access was worse and the local talent pool was smaller.
“It couldn’t be more different today. We have fantastic opportunities for young entrepreneurs,” Max said, later adding, “I’m grateful that funds like CORI are focusing on the exciting innovation that’s happening in places like Durango.”