LAS CRUCES — Virgin Galactic recently relocated U.K.-based staff to Las Cruces, advertised some new hiring and announced it is leasing office space off Roadrunner Parkway — all signs of an operational ramp-up in southern New Mexico that will continue throughout 2012.
The moves are in preparation for the start of space tourism flights from Spaceport America just north of Doña Ana County — possibly in 2013.
But they’re also the most tangible signs of permanent, local job creation since Virgin Galactic — billed as the world’s first commercial spaceline — first courted New Mexico with its suborbital spaceflight proposal seven years ago.
A handful of Virgin Galactic employees have either moved to Las Cruces or are en route as part of the initial team to be based in the city, said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. And there are more transfers — and hires — to come, he said.
“It’s still a relatively low number, but I think we’re going to see a big ramp-up as we approach commercial operations,” he said. “We’re looking at different scenarios, but obviously we’ll be hiring a whole bunch of people locally and nationally.”
At least two Las Cruces-related job postings appeared recently on virgingalactic.com — the best place to watch for openings, according to Whitesides. But the company may have a couple hundred local personnel once flights commence. They’ll range from blue collar-type jobs to highly skilled, technical positions, Whitesides said, with preference given to New Mexicans.