Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Democrats Deliver on Jobs for NM - Agreement Should Clear Spaceport America for Takeoff

Democrats showing this NM Legislature 60 day session will not be business as usual. The leaders of both Houses are immediately addressing matters to get jobs going in this State. No waiting for 60 days to act on matters that are needed today. Let's hope Gov. Martinez steps right up too, and signs the coming legislation. 

Democrats were swept into office in November on a promise to focus on creating good jobs for New Mexico, and it's a promise we are working hard to keep.

Today Democrats in the legislature announced an agreement to keep the Spaceport on track to become a major economic boon for New Mexico!

Video and Statements below are from the NM Senate Dems

Senate Majority Leader Michael S. Sanchez (D) Valencia & Bernalillo, District 29, and House Speaker Ken Martinez (D) Bernalillo, Cibola, McKinley, Socorro, San Juan, Valencia District 69, announced today that Virgin Galactic and New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association have reached an agreement regarding proposed legislation for Spaceport America. At the urging of Majority Leader Sanchez and Speaker Martinez, the two sides resolved their differences regarding liability issues.

Without the legislation, proponents argued that Virgin Galactic and potential occupants of the Spaceport would favor other states with limited-liability laws. The New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association expressed concern that limiting liability would protect manufacturers who produced substandard parts without fear of consequences. The Trial Lawyers advocate for consumers and public safety.

More than $200 million has already been invested in the facility located near Truth or Consequences.

“Too much has been invested by both the state and Virgin Galactic to abandon this project,” said Majority Leader Sanchez. “The potential economic benefits for New Mexico demanded that serious negotiations be conducted to get beyond the impasse. It is in New Mexico’s best interests that the Spaceport project moves forward quickly, with as much consumer protection as possible.”

At the request of the two legislative leaders, representatives from Virgin Galactic and NM Trial Lawyers Association have reached an agreement.

“This agreement is the result of many months of hard work,” said Speaker Martinez. “We encouraged both parties to sit face-to-face and work through their differences. Since they each had valid points, compromise was the only solution.

“They should be proud of the work they have accomplished for New Mexico.”

The proposed legislation will mirror the laws of Colorado and Florida that limit the liability of operators, manufacturers, and suppliers. An important addition is a requirement that each entity maintain liability insurance in order to qualify under the Act.

The proposed legislation, based on the agreement, is currently being drafted. It is expected that the bill will be introduced within the next several days.

“I am very happy that we can move this issue forward and begin a clear path to getting the Spaceport up and running,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Mary Kay Papen, (D) Dona Ana, District 38, who sponsored a bill last year to limit liability. “Many people in southern New Mexico, as well as the rest of the state, are excited to see this get going.”

January 22, 2013 at 07:20 PM in Economy, Populism, Jobs, NM Legislature 2013, Spaceport | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Terry Brunner: The View From Space, Truth or Consequences, NM

This is a guest blog by Terry Brunner, State Director of USDA Rural Development-New Mexico.

One of the joys of my position as State Director for Rural Development at USDA is experiencing what rural communities throughout New Mexico have to offer and the challenges they face. This week I traveled to Truth or Consequences, NM for a couple of days. On my agenda was a trip to the Spaceport, meetings with local officials and a press announcement with Senator Udall.

I think it was 104 degrees in T or C when I arrived and got ready for my tour of the Spaceport. I shed my coat, rolled up my sleeves and traveled out to see what I heard is the future of commercial space flight.

A quick disclaimer: for a time my mother was a flight attendant, my father worked for Delta Airlines and on an Navy aircraft carrier as an air traffic controller and my brother served as a Navy Helicopter pilot who piloted dozens of precarious missions over Iraq’s no-fly zone. Despite my familial connections with air travel, I can safely say that I never caught any such bug that made me want to fly much more than a few feet off the ground. And, I might add, I never have been a Star Trek fan, a sci-fi enthusiast or taken an astronomy course. I was skeptical of the Spaceport at first, but I learned quickly that it doesn’t take a space enthusiast or a Trekie to get excited about the project.

Spaceport
Click on photos for larger versions

The Spaceport sits just about 30 miles west from I-25/Truth and Consequences and in the middle of what’s called the Journada del Muerto -- the famous Journey of Death for early New Mexico explorers.  It’s a haul out there but as you see the Spaceport rise in the distance it becomes clear that it is something special. The terminal for the Spaceport is almost complete and the building is simply an architectural wonder. Its form is easily incorporated into the land as it rises out of the desert floor at about a 20 degree angle and peaks in the form of a large, windowed viewing area. A rust-colored roof curls like a carp’s lip over the top of the building.

Terminal

Virgin Galactic designed the Spaceport to make the space travel experience everything you ever dreamed it could be. Those paying for high-priced tickets aren’t treated as passengers, but astronauts. They arrive in the terminal together in vehicles and enter the training center in the terminal for a three-day astronaut training program. Before astronauts board the flight, they will walk down a long, dark, dramatic corridor into the light of the tarmac to board the ship. The terminal will feature a restaurant and viewing area for family and friends wanting to see the astronauts take off. Soon a visitor’s center will be constructed at the entrance to the facility for those who want to learn more about the Spaceport.

We drove to the end of the runway made of 46-inch-thick concrete and looked northward at the infinite desert and blue skies before us. It wasn’t hard to imagine the thrill of hurtling down the runway towards space.

As someone familiar with economic development, my mind started churning and thinking about the possibilities associated with the Spaceport and whether the capacity exists locally to benefit from the project. Fortunately, area leaders are gearing up for the challenge. There are plans to locate space-related industries and suppliers near the spaceport and in T or C.  As well, the local school system is working on a space-related curriculum for students in hopes that they can meet job opportunities at the spaceport. In fact, a group of students recently prepared a payload for a practice spaceport launch -- a great opportunity to for kids interested in space.

On the way back to T or C, we drove through Ted Turner’s nearby Armendariz ranch and their headquarters in Engle, NM. Turner is working hard to reintroduce bison in the area and we caught them in a middle of a dust up. The bison were molting, they were lean and there were a lot of calves running around.

Bison

Also noticeable was increased development around Elephant Butte Lake. More and more permanent homes are locating on the east side of the lake; which is helping with the development of the area and providing a greater mix of housing stock for residents and vacationers. Housing for all of those working at the Spaceport and in related industries will be a big challenge for the community.

Before the Spaceport, T or C (formerly Hot Springs, NM) was best known for its natural mineral springs.  A bunch of hotels in town provide lodging and access to minerals baths. I tried out the recently remodeled, historic Sierra Grande Lodge in downtown T or C.

Sierra_grande

After a hot, dusty day in the desert, I felt (and probably looked) like one of Ted Turner’s bison. Folks at the Lodge's front desk were sympathetic -- they offered ice tea and showed me to one of their rooms.  But the highlight of staying at the Sierra Grande, of course, is that every room comes with a free bath in one of their numerous tubs (they also have nicely appointed spa services). After a great Italian meal at the Bella Luca in downtown T or C, I took up the offer for a soak and it was worth every minute.

Mineral_bath
A mineral bath tub at the Sierra Grande Lodge

The next day I woke up refreshed and rejuvenated. I headed out to meet with officials from Elephant Butte, the Sierra County Commission and the hospital. All had on their minds the challenges of a changing community and how we could work together to meet those needs. That afternoon, we celebrated the award with Senator Tom Udall of a $47,000 USDA grant to the Sierra County Economic Development Organization (SCEDO) for the development of a business center.  SCEDO will provide a temporary launching point for local start-up businesses or relocating businesses that wish to take advantage of the business opportunities related to the Spaceport. SCEDO will provide computers, wireless internet, phones, advice and other resources to make sure businesses have what they need to get started and do business in the area.

SCEDO
Presenting a plaque with Senator Tom Udall to John Mulcahy, Executive Director of SCEDO, and Commissioner Al Campbell, SCEDO President

There’s a lot of bad news about the economy out there these days. But in T or C, there’s some good news and opportunities ahead. Their challenge is to make the most of it for their workforce and the 1300 students in their school system that will eventually enter the workforce. These days, across-the-board cuts to government programs and services are in vogue. However, especially for our rural communities, government programs and services provide the infrastructure and conditions that make job growth possible. New Mexicans funded much of the Spaceport project and a trip to the project shows the potential rewards derived from that infrastructure investment. If you haven’t been to T or C in a while, stop by and check it out. Clearly, it’s a community on the move.

This is a guest blog by Terry Brunner. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.

August 10, 2011 at 05:38 PM in Economy, Populism, Guest Blogger, Jobs, Rural Issues, Spaceport | Permalink | Comments (2)