Competition: how to use competitive edge and benefit.
Last week as I drove through the Raton pass, it was darkly beautiful and dangerous because it was snowing. I left The Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs I was attending a couple of hours early to make sure my colleague and I got through the pass before dark. I used to fly into Denver for this conference, and after two years of hanging out in the airport waiting for the flight to Colorado Springs that was delayed because of snow, I decided I could drive and get better control of my schedule. This is one of the few conference I can get to without flying.
My work requires I fly often to Washington. One of the unintended consequences of Sequestration is more conferences related to the space and government business are held in Washington, DC. The International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) is in Las Cruces as you know. I could double or even triple my attendance if I held it in Washington D.C. Holding the conference in Las Cruces risks limiting the federal agency speakers who attend. Here’s where the competition gets tough.
The commercial space industry is heavily dependent on state investment. The biggest influencers in our industry are the federal government agencies and their contractors. Congress has limited the amount of interaction via conference attendance the agencies can have outside of the Washington Beltway. For states like New Mexico with our heavy dependence on government funding, we are in a tough spot. I don’t think Congress meant to double the number of conferences held in DC but they have done little to recognize the consequences either. As the election season ramps up, there is little doubt Washington D.C. hotels will benefit in the billions. The rest of the hospitality industry, especially in towns like Las Cruces are suffering because of the limitations on government travel, it’s really limitation on tourism and trade.
This is where the competitive edge becomes our double edged sword. First, I have accepted this is the lay of the land. We can lean in and set the stage for our community to compete in ways that adapt. What is it that we offer here that will bring attention to our area? We have a border with Mexico, and we have a growing capability in drone development because of the Physical Science Lab at NMSU. What does the drone business have in common with border security and cyber security and the space industry? Communications with satellites enables the drone industry to offer capability that did not exist in the commercial market place even ten years ago. In the recent past, most of this industry capability was classified. Returning veterans know, there is a great deal of civilian benefit from getting drone technologies into community use. The Executive Director of Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance (MVEDA), Davin Lopez has been following the civilian drone industry for at least five years. He has attended state conferences and seen how the business has grown. MVEDA has been a partner with ISPCS since 2005. This partnership gives Davin and I a reason to talk consistently.
In 2005, the ARCA Aerospace founder Dumitru Propescu spoke at ISPCS. He was one of the XPrize competitors and he was also involved in the first XPrize Cup held at the Las Cruces Airport. Over the years I have followed ARCA Aerospace and their success as a private company competing in the difficult environment of the European Space Agency (ESA) marketplace. Their work for ESA enabled Dumitru to keep ARCA growing capability as it assisted ESA in the Mars Exploration program, for example. Yet, like most entrepreneurs, Dumitru does not rely solely on government contracts. He began developing his drone business for commercial use a few years ago and recently decided to move the manufacturing business to Las Cruces. The work of getting the City of Las Cruces and NMSU, was headed by MVEDA. When Dumitru contacted me about coming to Las Cruces to consider this manufacturing business, I contacted Davin. If MVEDA had not been forward leaning, aware of all the manufacturing capability in our border area, and up to date on the commercial space industry, getting this project recruited to Las Cruces would have gone slowly. It has not gone slowly because we have the university, Arrowhead Incubator, and PSL, all have worked together in the past. PSL is a leader in this area. In the good old days when the government went to conferences to give government contractors a place to demonstrate their next cool tool, now, the market place is requiring those contractors to compete in the open market place. This is the double edged sword, protected business or competitive edge.
The classified space business is not what it was because the technologies that were once classified are more accessible through the internet. The world is changing, either we look at competition as it is, or we get left sitting in the airport waiting for the snow to stop. This business is not for everyone, but believe me Las Cruces has a competitive edge and because we are a small community, hungry for business that we can do well, we can and do compete.