Deal is expected to bring hundreds of jobs after hangar completion
An aviation services company in Arizona plans to expand its operations to the Roswell Air Center, investing up to $18 million here and creating as many as 360 jobs by 2026.
In an agreement that has involved the cooperation of the state, the city of Roswell and Chaves County, Ascent Aviation Services has signed a letter of intent to build a wide-body hangar at the Air Center.
The deal includes up to $4 million in Local Economic Development Act funding from the state and $3 million from Chaves County, which is a portion of its state capital outlay funding for Air Center infrastructure projects. The company also would invest up to $18 million itself.
The plan is to build the hangar on 10 acres of leased land on the western side of the airfield near the Dean Baldwin facilities, according to the New Mexico Economic Development Department and David T. Querio, president of Ascent Aviation.
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“We are excited to bring a number of new jobs and our families to Roswell,” Querio said.
The Economic Development Department has estimated that the economic impact of the business expansion to the state could be as much as $545 million over 10 years.
Querio said that he appreciated the proactive and diligent work of the Governor’s Office, the New Mexico Economic Development Department and county and city officials. He said he is excited about being able to help New Mexico diversify its economic base and develop the Air Center, which he termed a “hidden gem.”
Ascent Aviation is a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) business. It stores, inspects, refurbishes, disassembles, maintains and fuels aircraft. It works on narrow- to wide-body aircraft.
Global clients include cargo companies, airlines, leasing companies and private owners. Ascent Aviation has worked on Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer and Airbus aircraft, according to its website.
Querio said that Ascent companies have been in business for more than 40 years and under current ownership since 2012. Querio became its president in August 2016. Ascent has about 550 employees and five hangars on 1,650 acres at two locations in Arizona, Pinal Air Park in Marana and Tucson International Airport.
Querio said that the company is rapidly growing and had considered other sites for its expansion, but it decided on Roswell for a number of reasons. One factor is the 500 or so aircraft being stored at the Air Center until the COVID-19 pandemic is over and customer demand returns, which Querio said could take some time.
“A lot of customers that are there are also customers of ours at other locations. We believe we will be able to offer them a broader range of offerings,” he said.
Another reason for the decision, he said, is that he and his wife, Valerie, are very familiar with the area and own a home in Roswell. His wife is a fifth-generation New Mexican and grew up in Midway. They also lived in Roswell several years ago, when Querio was general manager of the New Mexico operations of AerSale. Aersale is one of the five MROs now located at the Roswell Air Center.
Querio said that the company could have some staff in the area while hangar construction occurs, but he does not expect the first round of hiring of about 100 to 130 people to occur until after the hangar is built. That could take a year to 18 months, he said.
Michael Espiritu, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., which worked with the governmental entities to facilitate the deal, said hangar construction should mean jobs for the area as well.
Querio said that Ascent intends to hire local firms and workers as much as possible, but it first is looking to retain a site developer that will make decisions about construction.
Once finished, the hangar will be large enough to accommodate “virtually” any wide-body commercial aircraft now on the market, Querio said, which is not the case for most hangars at the airfield.
Secretary of Economic Development Alicia Keyes said she, Mark Roper and other staff have worked with Ascent for about a year.
She said the $4 million LEDA funding will be tied to job creation and is expected to be released in tranches, with the first funding coming as the first 160 to 180 jobs are created.
Those jobs will be for aircraft mechanics and operations support staff, Querio said, and the EDD has indicated that the positions will have average annual salaries of $54,000.
“This is a big deal for this many jobs to go into a rural area,” Keyes said. “We feel that the airport is a huge economic asset for the state, so we hope that this triggers quite a few more companies coming here.”
She also said that the average salary is good for the area.
“Something we are really focused on in economic development in New Mexico is building wealth and making sure we are not incentivizing deals where the average wage is lower than the county and the city,” she said.
Chaves County will serve as the fiscal agent for the LEDA funding, said County Manager Stanton Riggs. He said the county also will use $3 million of the $5 million Air Center infrastructure capital outlay funding received from the state Legislature for the hangar project.
“We are really happy to partner with the state, the city and the county,” Riggs said.
He said that the capital outlay funding, which former state Sen. Tim Jennings helped secure, can be used for such work as laying utilities, moving water lines and preparing the site. Because the Air Center property is city-owned, the city is expected to oversee the site work. The city would pay the contractor, while the county pays the city, Riggs said.
Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh said that the new hangar will expand the MRO capabilities and options available at the Roswell Air Center.
“Together with our existing facilities and other planned enhancements, we aim to be the worldwide leader in aviation MRO operations,” he said.
Espiritu said the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. expects to remain involved in helping Ascent Aviation with funding.
“Our job will be helping with funding opportunities through job training incentive programs,” he said.
Espiritu said another good aspect of the deal is that Ascent Aviation plans to work with Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, which has aviation maintenance technology certificate and associate degree programs. The company has indicated that it intends to provide internships, scholarships and employment. Aviation maintenance students from Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque also are expected to work with Ascent.
“Growing future mechanics certainly helps,” Querio said, “and we plan on partnering with both of those schools to provide scholarships and advance their programs to grow them significantly.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.