Air Force lab injects $ 2 billion into NM economy

Verus Research chief executive Hank Andrews, left, and Dr Sameer Hemmady chat on September 13 at the engineering firm’s new facility in Albuquerque. The Air Force Research Lab is Verus Research’s second largest source of contract revenue. (Mike Sandoval / For the Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

According to a new economic impact report, the Air Force’s research lab spending on space and “directed energy” technologies like lasers and microwaves have boosted the local economy by nearly $ 2 billion over the past three years.

The study shows that the New Mexico branch of AFRL, housed at Kirtland Air Force Base, now supports nearly 2,700 local jobs, including about 1,100 employed by the defense agency itself, plus 1 600 in local businesses that directly supply goods and services to AFRL. , or who benefit from spending in the local economy.

AFRL’s investments in turn help to create a strong local industrial base, as new technology companies emerge and local and national companies expand their activities here to take advantage of development opportunities in space technologies and technology. directed energy created by defense spending, said Col. Eric Felt, AFRL’s director of space vehicles.

“AFRL is proud to be part of New Mexico’s thriving innovation economy,” Felt told the Journal in an email. “The report confirms that New Mexico is a great place for space and directed energy, with a large and growing industrial space, a skilled workforce, and enormous opportunities to shape the future of space and directed energy for our state, our nation and our world. “

The Journal received a preliminary copy of the report, which analyzes AFRL’s local economic impact for the three-year period from FY18 to FY2020. It shows a total of $ 1.25 billion. of direct local spending during these fiscal years, which run from Oct. 1-Sept. 30.

These expenditures generated an additional $ 730.5 million in economic activity by businesses that provide goods and services to AFRL, or that depend on AFRL-induced expenditures in the local economy.

Additionally, at the federal level, AFRL injected an additional $ 36.5 million into dozens of local businesses through technology-related research and development grants awarded between 2018 and 2020.

AFRL represents only a small portion of the total expenses of all defense and US Department of Energy entities housed in Kirtland. Overall, the base contributed about $ 4.6 billion to the local economy in fiscal 2020 alone, according to a separate report released earlier this month.

But AFRL-specific activities provide a huge and disproportionate boost to local industry, contributing to an increase in private sector investment here in recent years in space technology and in research and development of laser and micro systems. waves. Defense spending in these areas through AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate and its Directed Energy Directorate, both located in Kirtland, has provided a powerful magnet for emerging companies to build new facilities in Kirtland. Albuquerque, or existing businesses to expand their operations here.

Verus Research, for example – an Albuquerque engineering company that does design, test, and evaluation work for high-power microwaves and nuclear engineering – moved into the old building in September. Babies R Us at I-40 and Eubank after renovating the 44,000 square meters. foothold in a high-tech research and development area. The company has grown exponentially since its launch in 2014, growing from $ 8.2 million in revenue and 30 employees in fiscal 2016 to nearly $ 32 million and 106 employees in fiscal year 2021.

AFRL is the second largest source of contract income for the company, said Verus chief executive Hank Andrews.

“About 41% of the value of our current contracts is AFRL related,” Andrews told the Journal. “AFRL helps build and develop the business ecosystem in Albuquerque. “

Likewise, Virginia-based engineering firm BlueHalo announced this summer that it will invest $ 60 million to build a new 200,000-square-foot innovation and manufacturing center for space technology and directed energy systems at Kirtland, where it plans to employ approximately 320 people.

When it opens next fall, BlueHalo will become the first industrial tenant to move to a planned 70-acre mixed-use site known as MaxQ, currently under development on the Kirtland property along the south side. of Gibson between Carlisle and Truman. The MaxQ complex aims to attract many more high-tech companies to the base, which is now a central location for the US Department of Defense efforts to modernize space technology and fully prepare micro-weapon systems. -waves and laser for deployment on the battlefield.

AFRL has also set up two local programs to help companies win public contracts. This includes an annual business accelerator called HyperSpace Challenge, which was launched in 2018 to allow certain companies to partner with government clients to explore new technological developments that may meet the needs of the mission.

And this year, AFRL and the US Space Force have partnered with the City of Albuquerque and local entities such as the New Mexico Trade Alliance to establish a collaborative workspace in Nob Hill where businesses focused on l space and directed energy can connect with the entities of Kirtland.

The constant advancement of local industry development allows AFRL to inject much more money into the New Mexico economy rather than going out of state, said Matt Fetrow, director of the office of AFRL’s technological commitment.

“The report only reflects AFRL dollars that came to New Mexico and stayed in New Mexico,” Fetrow told the Journal. “New Mexico-based businesses and national companies with local operations are effectively taking advantage of the opportunities here and they are booming. “

AFRL-sponsored science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, programs also benefit thousands of local K-12 students, as well as hundreds of students. high school and college through summer internships in Kirtland.

“It adds future value to the local economy by inspiring more students to pursue careers in STEM and helping to develop New Mexico’s skilled workforce,” said Fetrow.

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