Pearce announces federal grant for RIAC hangar; Mayor, Pearce talk of vision to diversify state economy

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An $800,000 federal grant to the city of Roswell will fund continued work on the Dean Baldwin hangar at the Roswell International Air Center.

Rep. Pearce prepares to talk Wednesday with local business leaders at the Hispano Chamber of Commerce office on Southeast Main Street. Scott Bucher of the Roswell branch of the New Mexico Small Business Development Center stands to the right of him. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

During a brief presentation at the hangar Wednesday morning, Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh and U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) talked about how the U.S. Department of Commerce grant will not just improve Hangar 1083 but also will help broaden the economy of the region.

“This building represents the key to diversify the economy of not only Roswell and southeast New Mexico but also the whole state of New Mexico,” said Kintigh to a small group of city officials, business representatives and Dean Baldwin employees assembled for the announcement.

“This is an example of an industry that is not dependent on government, oil and gas, or agriculture,” he said. “This is a very special facility, arguably unique. Unfortunately, this facility has not been well cared for.”

Kintigh said that maintenance on the hangar leased by Dean Baldwin Painting LP since 1999 had been neglected for decades. The hangar is sometimes described by city officials as the air field’s “premier” facility due its size.

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While the city did make repairs to the leaking roof in the past, those patches did not hold up for the long-term, which meant aircraft paint jobs sometimes had to be halted or rescheduled.

The city decided a couple of years ago to replace the roof and upgrade the hangar’s electrical and fire suppression systems, which Kintigh described as a $4.6 million project.

“That’s a heavy burden for this city, a heavy burden,” he said. “We stepped up to the plate and we got some help from the state, but we needed more. And, when we needed more, we turned to our friends in D.C.”

Pearce, who is also a candidate in the 2018 New Mexico gubernatorial race, said after his public appearance that he wrote a letter of support and made some calls regarding the city’s grant application to the Commerce Department.

He characterized the project as an investment toward making Roswell “a center for aviation” in the nation.

He explained that the area could grow into a hub for all types of electronics, maintenance and other aircraft work to help the region and the state develop additional sources of revenues and jobs.

“This is a long-term project that is very critical for some of the long-term vision of this area,” Pearce said. “Again, in the aviation business, I am watching the shrinking capabilities everywhere … We take our plane over in Hobbs, we sometimes take it to Dallas and sometimes even to Houston in order to get it maintained. If we could concentrate, I think we could offer a better quality of life to people living in Houston, the mechanics, and bring them here. The painting is one thing, but let’s go even further into maintenance.”

He explained that hangars and facilities such as those at the airfield — originally built by the U.S. military but owned by the city of Roswell since the Army air base closure in 1967 — are valuable assets.

“These hangars, you don’t find many of those,” he said. “It takes the government to build this kind of big hangar, so the fact that we are reclaiming those is just, to me, a very powerful testament to, again, the vision and followthrough of the city. They recognize what they’ve got.”

Work on the hangar roof replacement began in July, and City Engineer and Planning Director Louis Najar said that Waide Construction has completed three of eight hangar bays. The work on fire system upgrades will occur after the roof work is done, he said. The entire project is due to be finished this year.

The city of Roswell is putting $1.25 million into the repairs and upgrades, while the state has loaned the city $2.5 million. A state Local Economic Development Act grant of $1 million announced by Gov. Susana Martinez last January remains on hold, according to city officials. That grant money was tied to 75 new jobs to be created by Dean Baldwin over a three-year period after receipt of the money. The Roswell operations of the corporation employs about 135 full-time workers on a regular basis and up to 200 people during peak periods. The company is based in Bulverde, Texas, and has painting facilities in several locations.

Dean Baldwin General Manager Jude Zimmerman said he was pleased to hear of the grant and that he shares the hope that infrastructure improvements coupled with business development efforts will mean that someday airplanes will be transported from hangar to hangar as several different businesses work on them.

“We have this huge airfield and good possibilities, but we are losing business,” he said. “We have Aersale, but we watch the planes fly out of here after they get them running again.”

Following the air center announcement, Pearce toured the Dean Baldwin facilities with company managers and city representatives and met privately with local business leaders at the Hispano Chamber of Commerce office on Southeast Main Street.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.