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Local leaders named to new RIAC task force

John Mulcahy, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., and former RCCEDC board member Bud Kunkel, now a member of the Roswell International Air Center task force, say the members of the task force have a great opportunity ahead of them to help create a revenue-generating and job-creating air center. They are shown here at the July meeting of the Roswell City Council where elected officials approved the formation of the task force and other recommendations made by a March economic feasibility study. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Seven local leaders have been selected to serve on the Roswell Industrial Air Center Task Force, with an eighth member expected to be named soon.

The executive committee of the Board of Directors of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. met Thursday night and voted on the members for the task force. The task force is recommended by a March 2017 economic feasibility study as the first step toward eventually creating an organizational structure and plan to make the air center a thriving and profitable industrial and aviation commerce center.
The task force members confirmed so far are former Roswell Independent School District superintendent Michael Gottlieb, AMIGO Tax Service owner Alex Urquides, former New Mexico legislator and rancher Tim Jennings, real estate appraisal firm owner Bud Kunkel, retired Pioneer Bank chief executive officer Jon Hitchcock, Armstrong Energy Corp. director Kyle Armstrong and Roswell City Councilman and retired businessman Steve Henderson.
An eighth member should be named in the next few days, said John Mulcahy, president of the economic development group.
“All these people are very qualified,” Mulcahy said, “and they will be reaching out into the community in the coming months to get input from many sources including the county, tenants and others who have been involved in the air center through the years.”
Mulcahy said that nominations were sought for task force members.
“We polled our membership, all 120 people, and we got their feedback on who they thought should be on the task force. Then, we polled the executive committee and reached out to a number of people (who were nominated) to see if they were willing to serve on the task force,” he said.
He added that Hitchcock will serve as the aviation expert on the panel. In addition to playing a key role in negotiating with American Airlines to bring Dallas and Phoenix service to Roswell, Hitchcock owns an aircraft and is involved in the aviation industry in other ways, Mulcahy said.
Kunkel, a former board member for the economic development group, said he is “thrilled” to serve on the panel.
“This is an opportunity for us, together with local and state agencies, to create an environment to turn that old air force base into a revenue center that will create wealth and jobs for southeast New Mexico and Roswell,” he said.

Elected officials with both Chaves County and the City of Roswell previously approved the selection of task force members by the economic group’s executive committee. They also approved the adoption of the feasibility study’s recommendations, which include eventually forming an independent authority that will govern the air center, hire top managerial staff, attract private investment and oversee marketing of the industrial and aviation park.
The task force will aid in getting to the point where the authority can be formed and is expected to be able to recommend next steps in about six months, according to the economic feasibility study.
The group will meet for the first time next month, Mulcahy said.
“I am traveling to Louisiana to visit with a few airports over there to examine their economic development programs to bring that information back to the first meeting,” Mulcahy said, “and I am traveling with one of the task force members.”
Mulcahy said the air center is poised for growth with city, utility and airport projects completed or underway.
“It is pretty important that we have essentially a brand new runway,” he said. “We have a water tank program going on which will increase the capacity for the whole air center, and Xcel (Energy) is in the middle of a transmission upgrade. We have electricity, water and a runway. In my mind, it is equivalent to having a new street and new utilities. Now we need private investment to help us build the new house.”
Kunkel added that the city also has gone to great efforts to have major airline service to two major U.S. hubs.
“Look how hard the area has worked to have commercial airline service from Dallas and Phoenix,” he said. “I am not sure there is another small community in the United States that has been able to do that.”
The Roswell Industrial Air Center was originally an Army Air Field in World War II and later became the Walker Air Force Base. In 1968, the air base closed and ownership of the 4,600-acre center was transferred to the city.
The recent economic study by Leland Consulting Group Inc. of Portland, Oregon, as well as previous studies have noted the many opportunities that exist at the airfield, with its 13,000-feet runways, the generally mild climate, availability of land, proximity to rail service, 1.6 million square feet of buildings and other factors.
About 600 employees now work at the air center, which also has a residential area. Six major firms at the air center include aviation-related businesses and security and military training operations. The air center is also the location of Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, the Roswell Job Corps, the International Law Enforcement Academy and the New Mexico Youth ChalleNGe Academy run by the National Guard.
In fiscal year 2016, the air center earned $11.38 million, including $3.13 million from leases and $8.25 million in grants. Expenses totaled $11.63 million, resulting in a net loss of $252,651. The air center also recorded a loss in 2015 of $1.49 million, but was projecting a profit in excess of $1 million for fiscal year 2017 due to increased grant activity.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.