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NM gives $2M loan to airship inventor

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The aerospace industry is one of her administration’s top nine economic sectors for investment, says Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, at lectern, during a Saturday news conference at the Roswell International Air Center. The state is using Local Economic Development Act funds to help Sceye Inc. rebuild its hangar and airship. Others at the announcement are, from left, Mayor Dennis Kintigh; Stephen Tomlin, Sceye director of flight operations; and Alicia Keyes, New Mexico Secretary of Economic Development. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Sceye Inc., a new company developing an airship capable of stratospheric flight to conduct observations or provide high-speed communication connections, will receive a $2 million loan to help it to rebuild following a March windstorm that caused extensive damage to its hangar and airship, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Alicia Keyes, New Mexico Secretary of Economic Development, announced at a Saturday news conference at the Roswell International Air Center.

Damage to Sceye’s custom-made hangar can be seen in this photo provided by the New Mexico Economic Development Department. (Submitted Photo)

“For the first time, the state economic development department will tap into its LEDA (Local Economic Development Assistance) closing fund for a no-interest bridge loan to help a small local start-up that is recovering from a natural disaster,” said Keyes. “The $2 million loan to Sceye will help it through a rough spot, so that this incredibly innovative company can continue its research and development until insurance and other reimbursements start to flow.”

Keyes and Lujan Grisham said that Sceye is part of New Mexico’s growing aerospace industry that includes SpinLaunch, a start-up satellite launching company, and Virgin Galatic, which is developing a commercial passenger spacecraft at the Spaceport near Truth or Consequences.

“Some might say you are announcing a $2 million loan. There’s nothing exciting about that,” said Lujan Grisham. “You bet there is.”

She said the loan, using part of the state’s $75 million LEDA fund in a way that is permissible but has not been done before, communicates four important messages: that the state and city support their economic partners so jobs are not lost; that they are flexible and nimble with the funding they have; they are clear about the importance of creating jobs; and they are committed to job creation throughout the state.

The governor recognized Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh for his efforts, not only as mayor, but as a state representative before that, to persuade leaders that aerospace is an under-invested economic sector in the state with a strong future. She said that is one of the reasons she has named aerospace as one of her administration’s top nine economic priorities.

Both city and state leaders said that Sceye, a high-tech innovator funded by Vestergaard, a global health company based in Switzerland, is the type of company that leaders want to keep in the state and region.

“This is a good, effective economic partner,” said Grisham, “such a good economic partner that they have businesses all over the world that are aimed and designed at humanitarian efforts.”

Vestergaard has developed such products as water filtration systems, pest-resistant food storage bags and insecticidal bed nets. Sceye is working to develop a fleet of airships that could be parked for long periods of time about 65,000 feet in the air and have the ability to monitor crop conditions, climate change, human trafficking or other matters of concern to public health and wellness, as well as provide communication connections between drones, aircraft, satellites or remote locations.

Stephen Tomlin, Sceye director of flight operations, said the company has had some successful tests of its substrata, or small-scale airship and was able to build the full-scale airship, which was damaged by the gusts and winds experienced in Chaves County on March 13.

The storm also tore up the company’s custom-made hangar, which he said will be somewhat redesigned to safeguard against a similar situation in the future. He said he expects the hangar to be up in about four months.

The two-year loan also will enable the company to lease the former Google and Titan Aerospace building at the airfield in Moriarty. Tomlin said the company was interested in using the facility before the March storm, and he expects that it will be the site of some future tests of the substrata airship.

Tomlin said his company employs about 35 people now and could employ up to 70 workers at average salaries of $70,000 a year if the airship proves viable.

“With Sceye’s dedication to the task and with the excellent relationship and support with the state of New Mexico, we will ultimately be successful,” he said. “It is our hope that our success will enable other companies to make New Mexico their home base for operations.”

Lujan Grisham said, as with other LEDA funding, the loan comes with requirements that the hangar be built and jobs be maintained.

Keyes and other Economic Development Department staff said Sceye was in a unique time-sensitive situation, and in need of only temporary funding. But they added that the department is willing to talk to other businesses in Chaves County about providing recovery assistance if possible.

The March 13 storm and a tornado that hit the Dexter region a day earlier caused significant damage to a number of commercial and residential properties. Both the county and the city of Roswell issued disaster declarations on March 14.

Kintigh thanked Lujan Grisham for her administration’s efforts to assist Roswell and Sceye.

“This is a demonstration, not just of $2 million, but a demonstration of the degree of your commitment,” he said. “It does not go unnoticed. It does not go unnoticed by the community, and more importantly, it does not go unnoticed by the industry.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.