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Project To Bring Jobs to Navajos

By Jeff Proctor
Journal Staff Writer
    The president of a Georgia-based company says he has a deal in place with New Mexico Navajos to build aircraft parts on their land.
    State officials say the project, which is more than a year in the making, would bring hundreds of high-paying jobs and millions of dollars in investment to the Navajo Nation.
    John Dupont, president of Utilicraft Aerospace Industries Inc., formerly American Utilicraft Corp., said his company "has a deal and a program in place" with Navajo leaders to assemble freight aircraft parts on Indian land in northwest New Mexico.
    He declined to provide specifics of the business deal.
    In October, the firm signed a letter of intent to lease up to 15 acres at Albuquerque's Double Eagle II airport to build its turboprop-powered FF-1080 cargo airplane.
    Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley on Saturday said any agreement with Dupont's company will require approval from the nation's council.
    Shirley said he expects the council to consider an agreement "no later than the third week in January."
    He also discussed some of the negotiating points:
    The Navajo Nation would invest $34 million in Utilicraft, thereby becoming a 25 percent equity partner in the company.
    In turn, Utilicraft would build a yet undetermined number of subassembly plants on Navajo land.
    "It will take at least one plant to make the parts," said Shirley, the elected leader of the largest Indian tribe in the nation. "But whether it's one, two, four or a dozen, we haven't decided yet. This is still in the preliminary phase, and $34 million is a lot of money for the president to commit on behalf of the nation."
    Shirley said job creation is a prime motivator for the discussions.
    "What with the unemployment rate being about 50 percent in Navajo land, obviously if we are going to go into business with Utilicraft, one of the main reasons would be jobs," he said.
    As for how many jobs and how much they would pay, Shirley would not elaborate.
    But Gov. Bill Richardson hinted in a statement that such jobs would be beneficial to Navajos.
    "New Mexico is bucking the national employment trends," Richardson said. "We have a unique ability to create high-tech, high-wage manufacturing jobs, and it's because of our bold and innovative partnerships and approaches to economic development."
    New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans said in October that Utilicraft was considering allowing various pueblos across the state to build subassembly plants.
    Initially, Utilicraft planned to build its main plant at San Juan Pueblo Airport in Española, but the pueblo could not upgrade the facility soon enough.
    So Double Eagle II got the deal, which the firm said would employ between 350 and 400 people.
    The FF-1080, a freight feeder aircraft, uses an unpressurized cargo compartment. It gets its power from a pair of turboprop engines.
    Richardson applauded the leadership of the New Mexico Economic Development Department and Economic Development Partnership— the state's recruiting organization— in getting negotiations under way.
    "This project represents our aggressive efforts to bring jobs and economic vitality to all parts of New Mexico, especially our rural and Native American communities," the governor said.