Spaceport America’s new executive director has said the facility is poised to become a major source of economic development for the state, and not just because billionaire Richard Branson flew a civilian suborbital stint from southern New Mexico. .
Scott McLaughlin said there will be significant interest in the upcoming flights as well, as many will want to be a part of the experience as spectators.
âPeople are going to be flying from New Mexico, and people right below are going to watch,â McLaughlin told lawmakers on the Financial Authority’s Interim Oversight Committee Tuesday. “They are going to go to Spaceport New Mexico to watch.”
This, in turn, will feed money into neighboring communities, he said.
It all depends on the spaceport’s future relationship with Brandon’s Virgin Galactic company, which plans to use its infrastructure for future forays to the far reaches of space.
McLaughlin said the spaceport will attract more customers to its site as space travel becomes, as he said, “a taxi service. That’s really what commercial space is. – a shift from civilian and military space to a purely commercial market. “
Yet even dreams of the space age require funding, and McLaughlin said the spaceport, which operates on an annual budget of around $ 10 million, is in need of financial assistance.
The spaceport faces a shortfall of around $ 2 million as it deals with the fallout from an investigation into whether its former executive director Dan Hicks has embezzled funds, including gross tax revenue, to operate the installation.
The excess money from these tax funds over gross receipts has helped support these annual operations, but McLaughlin said that was not an option at this time. He called on lawmakers to help fill the void.
“You need $ 2 million in your budget. I will support that,” said Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who praised McLaughlin for appearing before the committee when previous directors attempted to l ‘to avoid. Cervantes, like other lawmakers on the committee, wanted more details on how the spaceport benefits the state and local economies.
The spaceport is working on a master plan that will include an analysis of economic development, McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin, who grew up in Las Cruces, recently took on the role of executive director of the spaceport after Hicks was fired for mismanagement and possible ethical and legal violations.
Last November, State Auditor Brian ColÃ³n released a damning report, in which Hicks is accused of embezzling funds and potentially violating laws and codes of ethics. ColÃ³n forwarded the report to the state attorney general’s office.
Matt Baca, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, wrote in an email on Tuesday: âOur office has reviewed the financial oversight issues raised by the previous director and called on the Spaceport Authority to strengthen its governance structures and oversight to ensure the proper use of taxpayers. dollars.
In an email on Wednesday, he wrote that the attorney general’s office had not come to a conclusion as to whether a crime had been committed.
McLaughlin, previously the spaceport’s business development manager, touted his deal with the nearby White Sands missile chain. Military leaders have agreed to let the spaceport use White Sands’ 6,000 square miles of restricted airspace, giving it free and hard-to-find capability elsewhere to launch into space, McLaughlin said.
Of the nine spaceports nationwide, New Mexico is one of four that offer both horizontal and vertical launch.
Over the years, New Mexico has paid roughly two-thirds of the $ 200 million plus cost of building the facility. The remainder was covered by a gross revenue tax approved by the counties of Sierra and DoÃ±a Ana.
Cervantes said those county taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for keeping the spaceport in operation any longer.
Senator Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, said she wanted the spaceport to do more to employ and engage New Mexicans, including putting them into orbit.
“Airline tickets are quite expensive and the last thing we want to do is build something that has the New Mexico logo on it and know that New Mexicans don’t have a place on the table,” he said. she declared. “It’s not good.”
She wondered if the state could negotiate one or two free rides for New Mexicans in future citizen flights.
âIf we have the desire to do it, then just like the way we work with other things, we can do it,â she said.