Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) says he'll now be in a position to protect New Mexico's military presence better as a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services.
New Mexico is home to Kirtland Air Force Base, Holloman Air Force Base, Cannon Air Force Base, Fort Bliss, White Sands Missile Range, two major national laboratories and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The committee oversees these installations, which provide 50,000 jobs with an annual economic impact of $13 billion across the state.
The facilities cut across the defense spectrum, from the Departments of Energy and Defense to the National Nuclear Security Administration.
"At our DOD and NNSA facilities, we're always thinking about forward-thinking missions, and thinking ahead, and whether that's Holloman or Kirtland is relevant to the future," Heinrich told Business First on Tuesday. "It makes it easier to defend new missions and defend what we have."
As a member of the committee, he said he's focusing on three main "buckets" of priorities: protecting the missions of the state's facilities, creating more technology-transfer opportunities and developing space-leadership opportunities, which is a major mission of Kirtland Air Force Base.
"You continue to protect and develop what you have, and at the same time try to build the private-sector ecosystem that in my view has been underdeveloped around that," he said. " Technology transfer hasn't been fully developed. The more we can do to take advantage of the services and the business on the outside of the gates is the way to buffer you from the ups and downs of federal spending."
For several years, federal spending has decreased in Albuquerque, and technology transfer has been seen as a way to create jobs based on research from Sandia National Laboratories.
EMCORE is often held up as model, but that company moved its headquarters in California after 20 years in Albuquerque.
"You can walk around the Sandia Science and Tech Park and see K-Tech and others. What we don't have is something that is scaled to the level of a big national company," Heinrich said. "If you take the approach that you're going to grow the public sector in a vacuum and not look at 40,000 jobs and $8 billion in input, that's not a recipe for growth. We have to lead in areas that we are uniquely available to lead. There's not a core piece of our economy that we should not leverage for future growth."
Heinrich is pushing two new technology-transfer bills that would make it easier for federal labs to develop technology in the private sector.
One of the major local hurdles, however, is private capital, and Heinrich said he's aware of the problem in New Mexico.
"I'm not sure the Senate Armed Services Committee is a platform for financing small business. But it's a platform to make sure we have the most advanced defense systems," he said. "What we can do is create a culture that supports these spinoffs. We've been off the map in terms of that investment structure in the U.S., and we need to do a much better job of highlighting what's going on. It will attract capital if people are aware of it."
While he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, Heinrich was on the House Armed Services Committee, and he said that experience will serve him well in the 114th Congress.
"I'm excited about hitting the ground running here," he said.