Mr. Witt Goes to Sacramento as Mojave Begins Revitalization Effort

Mojave's runways. (Credit: Mojave Air and Space Port)

Mojave Air and Space Port CEO and General Manager Stu Witt will be visiting Sacramento next week to lobby California lawmakers to provide regulatory relief and the types of incentives that other states have been providing to space companies.

Although Mojave is thriving as a aerospace research and development center, it has done so despite California ranking last among the states in terms of business friendliness, Witt said during a meeting of the East Kern Airport District Board of Directors on Tuesday. Obstacles include high taxes and a substantial regulatory burden.

Meanwhile, other states such as New Mexico, Virginia and Florida are offering lower taxes, financial incentives, and looser regulatory environments to attract space companies. New Mexico has built a $209 million spaceport for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which is being developed and built in Mojave. There are concerns that other states could lure companies away from Mojave.

Witt will outline specific measures he would like to see legislators support during a press conference on Monday during the Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Palo Alto, Calif. He will then meet with lawmakers in Sacramento later in the week.

Witt said he is hoping for the support of Gov. Jerry Brown, who was given the title of “Governor Moonbeam” in 1976 during an earlier stint in that post because of his strong support for space endeavors.

Spaceport officials are taking several other steps to make the spaceport a more attractive place for companies to locate. They are also teaming with the Mojave Chamber of Commerce to revitalize the rundown town of Mojave, where few workers at the spaceport live. Officials want a friendly town from which employees can walk or bicycle to work.

Director Cathy Hansen, who also heads up the Mojave Chamber of Commerce, said there is much enthusiasm for the revitalization effort among companies located at the spaceport. She said a recent meeting was full of young employees of the Spaceship Company and other firms who are willing to lend a hand in the effort.

At their meeting on Tuesday, the Board of Directors also supported an appeal from a group called the Mojave Makers to set up a workshop in one of the airport’s storage buildings, which currently houses unused airline seats.

The workshop will be based on other “makerspaces” and “hackerspaces” that have been established in other cities. The building will contain tools and equipment where members can work on their own projects during off hours. It also will provide a place where workers can make social connections and provide a sense of community for the spaceport.

The presentation was made by five young employees of different companies at the spaceport, including: Michael Clive and Nadir Bagaveyev of XCOR; Scott Nietfeld and Ethan Chew of Masten Space Systems; and Andrew Bingham of Firestar Technologies.

The board was enthusiastic about the proposal. Members authorized Witt to begin working with Mojave Makers on a favorable lease agreement that will allow the group time to get on its feet. The building is set to be cleared of its contents within a few weeks.

Mojave Makers will seek 501c3 status so the organization can operate as a non-profit. In the meantime, it will operate under the wing of the Space Studies Institute, a non-profit group located at the spaceport. This arrange will allow Mojave Makers to accept tax-deductible donations.