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Small-Plane Plant Moving To Belen

By Tim Korte/
Associated Press
      A Florida company that builds small sporty airplanes plans to break ground within the next six months on a 100,000-square-foot production plant at the Belen airport in central New Mexico.
    LoPresti Aviation will relocate from Vero Beach, Fla., in a major catch for Belen, located about 30 miles south of Albuquerque.
    ''We're very excited,'' Mayor Ronnie Torres said Tuesday. ''We heard about it, that they were looking for a new location. So we got in touch with them, flew them down and showed them what we have to offer.''
    The company manufactures the LoPresti Fury, a sporty, high-performance airplane modeled after classic World War II fighter aircraft. It can carry two people and 200 pounds of luggage about 1,000 miles.
    According to the company's Internet site, the Fury has a cruising speed of 215 mph but can reach speeds up to 345 mph and climb at 5,000 feet per minute. The price for each airplane is about $295,000.
    R.J. Siegel, LoPresti's vice president for operations, said Belen rated highest among 75 communities in a national search. The company wanted a place with a long runway, located near a major transportation hub with access to a good labor force.
    And while the criteria also included facilities and job training, Siegel said 40 percent of the decision was based on relationships.
    ''We were stunned by the quality of people and what they did in Belen,'' he said. ''They brought out representatives and told us how important it would be to them and how it would affect their community, the positive impact, if we located there.''
    LoPresti's decision is another breakthrough for New Mexico's burgeoning aerospace industry. Last week, Eclipse Aviation of Albuquerque received preliminary FAA certification for its six-passenger Eclipse 500 very small jet.
    LoPresti plans to invest $5.1 million on capital and construction projects at the Belen airport, with another $5 million designated for infrastructure and equipment. The plant could employ more than 300 workers within three years.
    State Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans said the selection affirms New Mexico's growing importance within the aerospace community.
    ''They did an extensive search,'' Homans said. ''They were looking for just the right place to call home, and they chose New Mexico. They know New Mexico is a great place for aviation. We're going to help them grow.''
    The Belen airport serves general aviation with a 6,600-foot runway, which will be repaved. Airport officials also plan to spend $3 million to add another north-south runway, hangars and additional infrastructure.
    ''Belen has a lot of potential as a location for air companies and suppliers,'' Homans said. ''It's got a great airport and a lot of space, and Mayor Torres' administration has been really aggressive about pursuing tenants.''

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