Spaceport America Economic Impact Claim Lacks Actual Data

Four big thumbs up from Richard Branson and then New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson at the Spaceport America runway dedication in 2010. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

NewsChannel 9 in El Paso recently looked into officials’ claims that Spaceport America had a $20 million economic impact on New Mexico’s economy in fiscal year 2016 and found a lack of support data.

However, when asked for a copy of the economic impact study or documents supporting the claim, Spaceport America’s chief financial officer, Zach De Gregorio, told NewsChannel 9 he didn’t use any documents and sent NewsChannel 9 a PowerPoint presentation with five slides.

“It’s just the PowerPoint,” said De Gregorio.

When asked how he did an economic impact study without any documents, De Gregorio said, “I had a lot of conversations and I talked with local business owners, customers and with city officials. I talked with my teammates and I got a really good sense of what was the activity in FY16.”

….When asked about exaggerating their economic impact, [Spaceport America Executive Director Dan] Hicks said, “The chart was intended to show the economic value of the activities at Spaceport America compared the funding received from the NM General Fund. It was simply a comparison chart to convey value added. An Economic Impact Study was not needed to provide a qualitative assessment of our value per NM general fund spending. The focus of the discussion was for our CFO to explain the assumptions he used to compile the information in that impact chart.”

The PowerPoint presentation showed a $20 million return based on the $944,000 the state invested in the spaceport in FY 2016. NewsChannel 9 said the figures do not show millions in taxes paid during the same fiscal year by residents of Dona Ana and Sierra counties to pay off bonds used for spaceport construction.

NewsChannel 9 also reported problems in obtaining documentation from Spaceport America. The spaceport attempted to charge the channel for documents that should be free to inspect under New Mexico law.

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