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Businessman advocates for county Air Center funding

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State funding for infrastructure on the south part of the Roswell airfield would help attract industrial and commercial businesses, says a former state senator. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

A former state legislator involved in past legislative efforts regarding the Roswell Air Center is asking Chaves County commissioners to consider putting an Air Center infrastructure project on its state funding request list.

Businessman and rancher Tim Jennings, a former county commissioner and an elected official with the New Mexico Senate from 1979 to 2012, made his initial suggestion Thursday during the Board of Commissioners’ regular monthly meeting.

“We need jobs in the county and one of the best ways that we are going to have to get jobs on the back side of that base is to get utilities out there,” he said. “Technically that is city property, but they are all county jobs. They are all our people. … There are a lot of things that can happen, but the utilities are a major part of getting it started.”

City leaders and members of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. have talked about building an industrial park and large commercial hangars on the south side of the airfield, which is part of a federal Opportunity Zone, but the area does not have much infrastructure at this time. Opportunity Zones can provide significant federal tax reductions to investors.

County Manager Stanton Riggs and Commission Chair Will Cavin indicated that a request for funding for an Air Center project was a possibility, and Riggs said the county previously had placed a road at the Air Center on its Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan. Projects must be on the ICIP to be eligible for state capital outlay funds.

Although the road project did not end up being funded, Riggs said that he has also had some discussions about putting another Air Center project on the ICIP list.

City staff said that Jennings’ idea has not be discussed with them yet, and Jennings acknowledged that he initiated the conversation on his own.

Jennings said that large corporations needing to wait for utilities to be added to a site are adding years to their timelines.

“If it takes two to three years to put infrastructure in, how many people want to (be put) in a five-year plan?” he asked.

He said New Mexico could look to Mississippi, where several counties and cities worked together to create shovel-ready industrial sites. The Golden Triangle now has attracted 6,000 jobs.

Jennings also was a member of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. task force that developed and advocated for the enabling legislation, signed by the governor in 2019, that allows former military bases in New Mexico to become special economic districts governed by regional authorities. Jennings’ father also worked in economic development and on former air base projects, so Jennings said he has long had an interest in the Air Center and is also motivated by a desire to see many more high-paying jobs in the region, so that young adults don’t feel that they have to leave the area to pursue careers.

He said the state is in a unique position due to the oil boom and resulting surplus in state revenues. This year, like last year, there likely will be a billion dollars in “new money” for New Mexico legislators to allocate to programs and projects during the upcoming legislative session.

He said it makes sense to him to push for funding infrastructure in an effort to diversify the economy.

“I think there is a realistic possibility that we could get $2 million or $3 million to put in utilities that would be good seed money, in my opinion, to put those jobs in,” he said. “We have oil and gas jobs in southeast New Mexico. This would allow us to be diversified in our area from oil and gas.”

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