Mark Bleth doesn’t look at the Roswell International Airport Center as the “old base,” but as the focal point for future growth for the city and region.
Formerly the manager of the Truth or Consequences Municipal Airport, Bleth joined the city in August as the new manager for the airport and the air center, a role that Scott Stark fulfilled for about five years in addition to being air center director.
Stark said that Bleth was one of about 20 people who applied for the position, and among the eight chosen for initial interviews and the three finalists.
“For the first interviews, I was trying to determine who had the skills, talent, just in general,” Stark said, adding, “We were looking for property management, airport management, general business knowledge. …Then it was figuring out who had my vision.”
Stark added that he had known Bleth for a couple of years, but that his opinions and views were not the only ones that weighed into the decision. A selection committee worked with Stark to screen candidates.
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For Bleth’s part, a long-held interest in aviation and his prior professional experiences drew him to Roswell.
In addition to about 18 months at the Truth or Consequences airport, he is a former Air Force officer, earning an electronics degree during his six years in the military and working with computer systems and Air Force intelligence, which included listening for terrestrial and space-based signals.
In 1994, he joined Sandia Labs and then he worked for Cisco Systems, starting as a systems engineer but making the transition to sales as an account manager responsible for $11 million or more in federal contracts a year.
In 2003, when that business became too large and corporate for his liking, he and his ex-wife started their own tour company of the Truth or Consequences area and Spaceport America. His former spouse retains ownership of a business that Bleth said grew to about $2 million in annual revenues when he was in the partnership.
His next stop in January 2017 was the Truth or Consequences airport, where, among other things, he was responsible for leasing and managing about 30 city-owned T-hangars and land leases covering about 700 acres. During his time there, he earned his real estate license.
He said the occupancy of city-owned hangers during his tenure increased from 83 percent to 100 percent, and now they have a waiting list. The increase occurred, he said, because appropriate property management techniques were employed, including prohibiting airplane hangars from being used for boat storage or such things.
“You have an asset that you need to optimize,” he said. “That plane will get gas. That plane will produce other revenue.”
Managing the Roswell airport and air center is a much more sizable undertaking than his previous job. In 2017, the Roswell airport operating revenues were $2.84 million and non-operating revenues totaled $4.97 million, The Roswell International Air Center sits on 4,600 acres of land, including 650 acres of industrial properties, and has about 1.65 million square feet of building space.
And there are significant challenges, including structures built for the most part in the 1940s and 1950s, with many in need of repairs and upgrades. But Bleth said he doesn’t find the task before him daunting.
“I see it purely as nothing but opportunity,” he said.
He said many people he has talked with refer to the air center as either the old base or a “boneyard” for stored or dismantled aircraft, but he stresses that the air center is far from being in “dire straits,” with four daily commercial airline flights, regular use of the airport by Holloman and Cannon Air Force Bases, aircraft testing by Boeing, a fixed-base operation and other businesses and activities.
He said he is working on a number of priorities at once, but chief among those is talking with all the existing tenants “to understand their businesses and what their challenges are and what their opportunities are and how we can assist with that as their landlord or their partner,” he said.
Ultimately, he sees his job to promote not just the air center, but also the city and aviation-related industries.
“Some people just want a warehouse,” he said, “but that doesn’t add any economic impact, any benefit. … That is not a priority of where we want to grow. We want manufacturing jobs of some sort, but when you talk to those people who have those type of jobs, they are concerned about workforce issues.”
He said he already has made plans to discuss ways to introduce Roswell middle school students to aviation-related curricula in an effort to help fill the pipeline of students for the airframe repair and maintenance, and private and commercial pilot programs offered by Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. Being able to tell potential employers that a trained workforce is ready for hire will help grow the air center, he said.
In addition to learning his new job, Bleth has enrolled as a student at ENMU-Roswell to pursue the dream he had when he first joined the Air Force, becoming a pilot. He said he has every intention of immersing himself in the community, not just working a job here, and doing what he can to make even those who never fly or go to the air center understand its potential and benefits.
“Jobs and payrolls generate GRT (gross receipts taxes) and they (air center employees) own homes and they pay property taxes,” he said. “Maybe people aren’t aware that this is good for them and that it is obviously good to grow.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.