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Spaceport America teams with Borderplex Alliance


The Borderplex Alliance, an economic development organization based in El Paso, formalized a relationship with Spaceport America Jan. 4 with a presentation touting a region comprising southern New Mexico, west Texas and northern Chihuahua as prime ground for a major aerospace sector.

The Alliance’s executive director, Jon Barela, visited Spaceport America’s offices in Las Cruces for a presentation and public signing of a memorandum of understanding along with the spaceport’s director, Scott McLaughlin.

“There’s no region in North America that has the (research and development) capabilities, the testing and evaluation capabilities and the manufacturing capabilities that we do,” Barela said. “From a workforce standpoint, from a research standpoint, from a cost-of-doing-business standpoint, we’re the perfect place.”

Prior to leading the Alliance, Barela served as New Mexico’s Economic Development Secretary from 2010 to 2016 under Gov. Susana Martinez. In that capacity, he chaired the board of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, the state agency governing the spaceport.

The text of the MoU was not immediately available. The directors did not indicate any financial transaction was involved, but rather a partnership under which the organizations would collaborate to promote the region’s potential, lure more investment and foster job growth. McLaughlin said this would include sharing information about prospects and potential sites worth marketing, building on the region’s population center, manufacturing capacity south of the border, New Mexico’s national laboratories and universities.

New Mexico’s spaceport, built with taxpayer money and governed by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, is best known as the home of Virgin Galactic’s space flight service, but it leases space for several other aerospace companies for research and development as well as testing at its remote facility in Sierra County. The spaceport also hosts an annual international rocketry competition, the Spaceport America Cup, that draws thousands of graduate and undergraduate students to Las Cruces and the spaceport, along with companies looking for fresh talent.

The spaceport’s other tenants, clients and programs have grown in importance as the start of regular commercial flights by Virgin Galactic have seen delays over the years. Its sixth flight to space, with four private passengers, is planned for Jan. 26, but it will pause flight activity later this year to focus on developing a new generation of space planes that can fly more often than the company’s flagship craft, the VSS Unity. The company recently laid off 185 employees and its founder, Richard Branson, said last month the company was sufficiently funded that he did not plan further investment in the enterprise himself.

New Mexico lawmakers have expressed skepticism about Virgin Galactic and McLaughlin, who was named executive director in 2021, has sought to demonstrate the facility has greater potential as a major industrial center. Whatever the future holds for Virgin Galactic’s enterprise, the space economy — including reusable rocket technologies, satellites and a range of anticipated operations in space including mining of asteroids — has been projected by analysts at Citigroup to reach $1 trillion in annual sales by 2040.

“We’re talking about the spaceport being one component of what can be a powerhouse region in terms of aerospace and space,” McLaughlin said.

Barela said his organization also works with the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance and that a five-year strategic plan for promoting the region in the aerospace sector, including thousands of acres available for development on the spaceport’s campus, was already in the works.

Barela acknowledged some challenges, however, in negotiating development deals over a region that spans state and international boundaries, whereas other established aerospace sectors are localized within one state. He expressed confidence that local governments would thrive together, all the same: “The space companies are going global and need global talent. There is no better region when we combine our assets than what we have.”

Spaceport, Borderplex Alliance, Virgin Galactic, aerospace