The axiom “it’s not rocket science” is used in everyday conversation when someone has overcomplicated a task. But when it comes to the economic impact of replacing the Minuteman III missiles located in the Cheyenne region, it is all rocket science.
And that fact will add an extra edge to the economic impact from the project, which is already projected to bring around $2.6 billion in construction money for the FE Warren Air Force Base’s portion of the project.
FE Warren’s Portion Covers Three States
The missiles that FE Warren oversees actually cover the corners of three states: Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska.
Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce CEO Dale Steenbergen has been told to expect between 3,000 to 5,000 people on site at peak construction. That’s going to require a man camp, which will be built in Nebraska, to help house everyone without straining local housing further.
But among those workers will be engineers, chemists, physicists and more, Steenbergen told Cowboy State Daily, and that’s what makes the economic impact from this project different from the usual.
“I don’t know the entire list,” he said. “But a lot of those degree people, managers have, you know, different pieces of the project, and we expect 500-plus of them.”
‘Super Smart People’
Historically, the presence of so many scientific jobs has had ripple effects for the businesses and the communities in the region, Steenbergen said.
“When you think about that, you have these super smart people who are being put in the region for at least a certain amount of time,” he said. “And we’ll have the ability to keep some of them longer term, because they can use this as a kind of hub for the work they do at other bases.”
The influx of so many people with so much expertise and bright ideas has “tended to benefit us for the entire life of the missile,” Steenbergen added. “And so, I expect on this one too, I think we’re going to have positive impact from this for the whole 50 years the missiles are here.”
The presence of so many scientists and problem-solvers isn’t the only intangible benefit that adds an unusual edge to modernizing the Minuteman III missiles, Steenbergen said.
There’s also a certain amount of community pride that comes with hosting such an important national mission.
“When people are uplifted and believe they are working on something important, their work is just better over time,” he said. “And I do believe that has a tremendous impact on our economy. We are proud of that and try to lift up that military community and their mission in the region.”
Money Dump Will Be Huge
While the intangibles add a certain edge to the overall economic impact of replacing the Minuteman III missiles with new Sentinels, the money dump that’s headed for the Cheyenne region is Huge, with a capital H.
For the FE Warren Air Force portion, construction costs are estimated at $2.6 billion, based on figures supplied by the military base. At least 878 jobs will be added to the region with an estimated additional payroll of $47.7 million.
“What’s unique about this is, when you do a military expenditure like this, it’s all incoming money,” Steenbergen said. “That is what makes this so cool, right? It doesn’t cost you anything to get it, and it’s just dumped into your economy.”
Modernizing the land-based portion of the nuclear triad, meanwhile, is estimated to cost $107 billion, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. Land-based missiles are located in five states: Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. Between them, they have 400 missiles in all.
Winding It Up
Communities within the FE Warren Air Force Base’s region are already taking steps to maximize the economics of the situation.
That includes a monthly call with the contractors who will work on the project to talk about the services available in each of the communities, and to coordinate how things will be structured, ensuring workers will know what is available.
“We’ve done that for a year already,” Steenbergen told Cowboy State Daily. “And an important part of our partnership is that we invite the communities in the missile field to join us on that call.
“This rising tide idea is really important for us. We’re all talking about this together to gain the most economic benefit from the project, and to help the contractors do this as seamlessly as possible for the nation.”
Some of the work required for modernizing the nuclear missiles in the region has already begun, Steenbergen added.
“We’ve got people on the ground doing work on right of ways and engineering and environmental work,” he said. “That already started a year ago.”
The Long Game
For Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins, the most significant aspect of the project is what it says about the future of the military base.
“This ensures the continued operation of FE Warren Air Force Base for decades,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “If we don’t have a mission, we probably don’t have a base and, you know, it’s our No. 1 employer. It supports hundreds of millions of dollars worth of economic impact to our community each year.”
Based on figures supplied by the military base, FE Warren’s payroll in 2022 was $280 million, with expenditures of $81.7 million that covered procurement of materials, equipment, supplies and services, as well as costs of construction projects.
The base also supports a number of jobs indirectly totaling $71.9 million in payroll, according to figures from the base, for a total annual economic impact of $433.6 million.
The decision to replace the aging Minuteman III missiles with brand new Sentinels assures that the military base will continue to be a key driver of the southeast Wyoming economy for decades to come.