Before 1998, little more than dirt and tumbleweeds greeted visitors to the open expanse that hugs the eastern side of Kirtland Air Force Base.
But over the past 18 years, local, state and federal officials have partnered with private developers and businesspeople to convert that vast empty space into the Sandia Science & Technology Park. Today, thanks to their joint vision and collaborative efforts, the 340-acre park now houses 40 high-tech industrial businesses, engineering firms and other entities that together employ about 2,300 people.
“It took real vision to do this, because when we began, most of this area was just a dump,” said park Chairman of the Board Sherman McCorkle. “About half of it was a landfill, or brown field, with nothing but a dirt overlay. It really got started almost from scratch.”
Large open fields still hug much of the park perimeter, leaving a lot of room for continued development. But today, the park has become a bustling center of operations for a range of companies that supply products and services to Kirtland and the two labs housed at the base – Sandia National Laboratories and the Air Force Research Laboratory.
It provides a critical interface between everything that goes on “behind the fence” and all the commercial, industrial and community-based activities connected to the base and labs. And it provides a doorway where high-tech companies have set up shop to pull new, cutting-edge technologies out of the labs and into the marketplace, said Gary Oppedahl, Albuquerque’s director of economic development.
“It’s all about communicating, connecting and collaborating, which is the whole purpose of the park,” Oppedahl said. “There are billions of dollars in research and development coming into the state through the base and the labs, and the park helps match up that R&D with developers outside the fence. That’s a win-win that offers huge economic impact as businesses strive to take things that go into defense systems and commercialize them for other uses.”
Homegrown companies like the engineering firm Applied Technology Associates have grown from small operations into major industry players thanks to contracts with the labs and the logistics that the Science & Technology Park offers to facilitate their work.
ATA, which provides engineering, design and manufacturing services for the Air Force Research Lab, has leveraged its local R&D to branch into supply services for NASA and other agencies and entities, such as White Sands Missile Range. The company now employs 220 people with $47 million in revenue as of 2014.
“The park has brought us much more visibility and leverage for marketing what we do,” said ATA President Dan Gillings. “The location itself right outside the base where our principal customer is housed is critically important for our business.”
The strategic location and access offered by the park has also attracted huge global corporations, such as Raytheon and MOOG Inc., both of which set up shop there to facilitate their work with the labs.
More companies large and small continue to arrive each year. Three new firms and the charter school Technology Leadership High School set up operations in the park in 2014, said Jackie Kerby Moore, Sandia Labs’ manager of technology and economic development and lead for the Sandia Science & Technology Park program.
All that activity provides a huge economic boost to Albuquerque and the state.
From 1998 to 2014 – when the Mid-Region Council of Governments released its last biennial report on economic impact – the park had generated an accumulated total of $2.3 billion in economic activity. That included:
• $368 million in public and private investments at the park
• $89 million in tax revenue for the state and $13 million for the city
• 6,593 direct and indirect jobs in the city and elsewhere, with a total of $3.77 billion in wages since 1998
• An average salary of $83,300 for the 2,300 people directly working at the park, or nearly twice the average salary in Albuquerque.
About $279 million, or 75 percent of all investment in the park, had come from private sources as of 2014, with another $89 million coming from federal, state and local governments and agencies.
That includes grants from the U.S. Economic Development Administration for fiber-optic communications and security infrastructure, U.S. Department of Energy assistance for the master plan, and park management services by Sandia Labs. The city also invested about $6 million to upgrade roads and sewer systems. And the county assisted with land studies and other improvements at the 340-acre site.
That joint public-private cooperation has brought major benefits for all the government entities and private businesses involved, said Robert Peterkin, chief scientist at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate.
“The Science and Technology Park has been a vital resource for our contract companies, by providing a place for burgeoning companies to locate in close proximity to the base,” Peterkin said. “We believe that over the years the park has also played a significant role in growing small technology companies here in New Mexico that we at Air Force Research Laboratory need in order to further our technology in the defense of the nation.”