Did Richardson Oversell Spaceport America’s Potential?

Bloomberg News has a story looking at the challenges facing Spaceport America as it nears completion in the New Mexico desert. The article raises the real possibility that then-Gov. Bill Richardson sold the project to the state’s taxpayers based on overly optimistic economic assumptions:

Now, Governor Susana Martinez, a Republican who replaced Richardson in January, has ordered an audit of the spaceport’s spending and said the facility must secure private investment to augment the public money. Spaceport director Christine Andersen, who took charge in February, disavows the earlier job projections, calling them a “feel-good plan.”

She’s working to update them, she said — reducing tourism numbers, launch counts and revenue projections to “more conservative” figures. The new estimates aren’t yet available….

Futron’s 2005 report, which predicted as many as 3,460 jobs and $460 million in economic activity by 2015, was based in part on the assumption that some orbital launches would be possible. The study, which was funded by the state Economic Development Department, contemplated that at least one aerospace company capable of carrying NASA payloads into orbit would set up shop near the spaceport.

Two other potential revenue generators that were mentioned — a NASCAR-style racing league for rockets and annual rocketry competitions — have dropped from the picture entirely. In the Futron report, they accounted for at least $62 million in economic activity and more than 630 jobs.

“We were asked to provide a study and examine the potential economic impact of the spaceport,” Foust said. “We provided one to the best information available at the time.”

Using that report, and another prepared by New Mexico State University researchers, then-Governor Richardson campaigned to win funding for the spaceport.

Read the full story.