Little did anyone fathom at the onset of World War II that a hastily constructed training and testing facility on Albuquerque’s south end would one day account for 10% of the metro area’s economy and 13% of its jobs.
The economic impact of Kirtland Air Force Base cannot be overstated. The installation that started off in 1941 as a 2,000-acre U.S. Army airfield has since grown into a 50,000-acre military, and research and development facility that drives the metro’s economy.
Kirtland contributed about $4.6 billion to the local economy in the 2020 fiscal year, up from $4.5 billion in 2018, according to the base’s 2020 Economic Impact Statement. The total economic footprint of KAFB is about $7.4 billion. To put that in perspective, the entire state of New Mexico is currently operating under a $7.4 billion budget, funding everything from State Police to CYFD.
More than 23,000 people work on the base, the vast majority of whom are civilians. The base also has about 3,500 military personnel, most of whom live off base and frequently patronize local businesses.
Base commander Col. Jason Vattioni says the KAFB workforce grew by about 400 employees in the past two years. And there are plans to add about 2,000 jobs in the coming years.
“These employees buy homes, pay taxes and support local businesses, generating billions of dollars in local economic impact,” Vattioni said at the Kirtland Partnership Committee’s annual breakfast last week.
The base’s annual payroll is now approaching $2.3 billion. The Department of Energy and Sandia National Laboratories, which have about 12,700 employees working on base, add another $1.36 billion in payroll.
“These numbers are massive. It’s phenomenal,” says Brad Steward, chairman of the Kirtland Partnership Committee’s board of directors.
Kirtland has become the equivalent of a large town on the city’s southeast end. Its economic impact is felt all across the metro and throughout the state through its contractors, civilians and active-duty personnel. The base reported about $960 million in local expenditures in the 2020 fiscal year, including $287 million in contracts with businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans.
Beyond the economic impact, KAFB is a research and development hub for the United States. R&D are the core missions of Sandia National Laboratories, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy and Space Vehicles Directorates, the Department of Energy and the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center — all located on Kirtland.
Kirtland also plays a direct role in our nation’s defense. The 377th Air Base Wing supports the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise, while the 58th Special Operations Wing trains for search and rescue, and special operations with rotary-wing, fixed-wing and tilt-rotor aircraft.
It’s easy to take Kirtland for granted, but we shouldn’t. Other cities would leap at the opportunity to host the fifth-largest Air Force base in the country. Many Albuquerqueans unknowingly use Kirtland for commercial air travel as Kirtland and the Albuquerque International Airport share the same runways.
What started as a makeshift training and testing facility with simple wood-frame structures has become an integral part of the nation’s defense and Albuquerque’s economy. Col. Roy C. Kirtland, who learned to fly in one of the first Wright brothers’ airplanes and for whom the base was named in 1942, would likely be proud of the base’s growth. So should we.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.