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Muhamed Abdelhack covers business and economy for The Paper. He is a communications and journalism graduate of UNM.

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With 2020 all but concluded, the optimists among us have their sights set on the future, and that future is quite literally “looking up.”  The year 2021 is poised to be one of many firsts in space exploration, and New Mexico is in a very good position to reap the benefits of such a rapidly expanding industry. That expansion, resulting from advances in space tourism and military spending, is expected to contribute over $3 trillion in the global economy by 2045.

In November, Mayor Tim Keller announced that, over the past year, his administration had been working closely with Group Orion, an aerospace company, to bring their business to Albuquerque. “We started working on this project a year ago, recognizing what incredible potential it has to diversify Albuquerque’s economy,” said Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael. “In our meetings with the company, we expressed that our city’s natural assets position us to be a perfect home for this innovative work.”

Indeed New Mexico serves as an ideal testing location with a mild climate, no natural disasters and low population and air traffic. Group Orion, a subsidiary of Theia Group, Incorporated, plans to develop the Orion Center at the Albuquerque Sunport’s Aviation Center of Excellence, an 80-acre site adjacent to a 2012 decommissioned north/south runway. “We would like to express our appreciation to Mayor Tim Keller, his team, and our project partners for their support during this development process,” said James Reid Gorman, vice president of administration for Theia Group, Incorporated. “We look forward to continued and meaningful progress on the project in the coming months.”

In November the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) approved Group Orion’s plans, which now move into the next stage: to seek approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. If approved, initial site work on the planned 4.1 million square feet of buildings could begin as soon as spring of 2021, with some construction phases completed by 2023.

Thanks in part to an ideal climate, low cost of living, and a highly skilled workforce, New Mexico is an ideal location for aerospace companies to set up shop. In fact, over 60 aerospace and directed-energy companies already call New Mexico home. Companies such as Boeing Co., Virgin Galactic, SolAero Technologies Corp., Flore Industries, RS21, Descartes Labs, Lockheed Martin, Leidos, Applied Technology Associates, and others take advantage of New Mexico’s business-friendly atmosphere and generous tax incentives for aerospace companies. It is for these reasons that Albuquerque has yet again made the shortlist of six possible cities to be the permanent home of the new U.S. Space Command Center. 

According to the city, hosting the new federal facility would add more than 1,000 federal personnel jobs and opens the door to defense contract opportunities. The push to bring those jobs to Albuquerque is wholly backed by the state government and the city’s congressional delegation. “With this opportunity and the exciting news around Group Orion, we are on track to become home base for space,” said Mayor Tim Keller. “Our state’s emergence as a center for space exploration and research means we have a highly-skilled and knowledgeable workforce ready to welcome the permanent U.S. Space Command to the Land of Enchantment.” Kirtland Air Force Base joins Peterson AFB (Col.), Patrick AFB (Fla.), Offutt AFB (Neb.), Redstone Army Airfield (Ala.) and Port San Antonio (Texas) in this final round of considerations, which started with 31 total cities in the initial evaluation phase. A preferred site, along with up to three alternatives, are expected to be selected in January.

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