By Alta LeCompteLas Cruces Bulletin
The staff at Springhill Suites and Staybridge Suites are scurrying this week, getting ready for some special guests from Corpus Christi, Texas: Navy fliers in training and those who supply their support services.
Training Wing 4 will arrive the first weekend in January and begin primary flight training Monday, Jan. 6, said Cmdr. James Norris, operations officer.
The cadre will include 25 instructor pilots with 65 students and 45 maintainers, Norris said.
Th eywillmaketheirhomeinLasCruces until mid-March.
Historically, the Navy training wing makes a $1 million economic impact on the local economy during their three month stay, said Cheryl Rodriguez, manager of Las Cruces International Airport.
She said the city, which owns the facility, receives only service fees for the fire and police protection it provides, but the contribution to the local economy is huge.
“Any time we have a large group coming into our city for 60-plus days, it is a substantial boost to the hotels, restaurants, car rental companies and all segments of our business community,” said Philip San Filippo, executive director of the Las Cruces Convention & Visitors Bureau. “In addition, it should be a substantial boost to the city’s gross receipts tax.”
Las Cruces’ second chance
The airport was quiet last winter, when theCorpus Christi wing opted to train in Roswell instead.
But for 2014, the wing got a deal it liked and opted to return to Las Cruces.
“We’re looking forward to having them back. They’re a really nice bunch of people,” said Hal Kading, president of Southwest Aviation Inc. The company is based at the airport and sells airplane fuel.
Apparently the feeling is mutual.
“They just like Las Cruces – everybody’s so friendly. They feel like they’re treated very well here,” Kading said. “They like the open air space and the weather. Roswell gets some low ceiling this time of year, but we’re clear and bright.”
There will, however, be Navy pilots fromAir Wing 5 based in Pensacola, Fla., training in Roswell.
“Air Wing 5 will be using Roswell, so we took the opportunity to return to Las Cruces,” Norris said. “We had a good experience in Las Cruces in the past.
“The possibility is pretty good, now that both wings are conducting detachments, that we will return to Las Cruces in the years ahead.”
Kading said his company was contacted by the Pensacola wing, which subsequently made a site visit to Las Cruces.
“Between the two of them, they decided Corpus Christi would come back here and they would go to Roswell,” Kading said. “They discussed between themselves what would
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work the best.”
What works for the Navy, also works for Las Cruces and New Mexico.
“They rent cars; they eat – a lot. They often get Internet services and security guards,” said Christine Logan of the New Mexico Economic Development Department Community, Business and Rural Development team.
“It’s a great opportunity to have military personnel get exposure to New Mexico and for the Navy to train here when theycan’t train at home. Even for the short term, it’s great for us.”
Although the flight training lasts only from January through March, those who get acquainted often return when they are traveling across the country, she said.
Logan said she can attest to the economic value of the visit, because she compiled economic impact statistics for the city during her tenure as the city’s economic development director.
Hotels welcome entourage
“They impact us tremendously,” said Audrey Valdez, director of sales for Staybridge Suites, where the Navy’s support service providers stay.
She said the all-suites hotel offers services not available at hotels geared for shorter visits, such as complimentary laundry facilities, in suite kitchens and gas grills outside.
“Our place is much like home,” she said, adding there are places visitors can hang out, such as an Internet café with a massage chair.
“They really enjoy staying with us.”
Valdez said the same amenities, including free dinners Tuesdays through Thursdays, are available to all guests.
She said the Navy trained in Las Cruces during three of the five years she has worked at Staybridge.
“It has impacted us tremendously,” she said.
Wooing the Navy
This year, everyone got in on the effort to ensure that the pilots would do their winter training here.
Valdez said she contacted the Las Cruces Convention & Visitors Bureau and they pitched in to help court the Navy.
“It’s important for us to all work together,” she said, noting that collaboration creates a multiplier effect.
“I had heard from several hoteliers that we needed to be more competitive in our bid to the Navy,” San Filippo said.
“I brought the issue to the attention to city administration and the department heads rallied to get the job done. It was a real team effort that included the following departments: Airport, Fire, Police, Transportation, Economic Development and the CVB. All of the departments came together to make it work.”
He said to his knowledge this is the first time the CVB has gotten involved in the process.
“But any time there is an opportunity to support the hospitality industry, we want to be actively involved,” San Filippo said.
Kading said he and city officials both contacted Corpus Christi in October to express an interest in getting them back and updating them on the fact that Fire Station No. 8 had been built at the airport and would open in time for their January flights.
“The city seemed to be more receptive to negotiating prices,” Kading said.
“We’re looking forward to next week.”
Ensign Tabitha Faddis conducts pre-flight checks on an F-34C Turbo Mentor before flying as part of her curriculum, Feb. 15, 2011, at Las Cruces International Airport.