Ghost towns are a bad thing, right?
Not the one that’s about to spring up in Lea County, N.M. That’s where a company recently announced plans to build what some are calling a $1 billion “ghost city” — to be used to test emerging infrastructure and technologies in a real-world, but uninhabited, setting.
Pegasus Global Holdings LLC officials say their Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (CITE) will be unique in the world in replicating a modern city in size and scope. The facility, scheduled to break ground in June, is projected to create at least 350 permanent jobs and 3,500 indirect jobs in its design, development, construction and operational phases. Lea County, population 64,700, sits in the state’s southeast corner, bordering Texas and Mexico.
Lea County is known as the state’s “energyplex” for its concentration of oil and gas-related industries. But the county had been looking for ways to diversify its economy as a hedge against boom-and-bust cycles, even before Pegasus came calling.
Images courtesy of Pegasus Global Holdings LLC
An aerial rendering shows the master plan for the Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (CITE), a $1billion “ghost city” to be built in Lea County, N.M.
A diagram of CITE’s proposed City Lab shows the variety of facilities planned. It is designed to replicate a typical mid-sized American city — without inhabitants — and will allow innovators to test their latest technologies in a real-world setting.
, chairman of Lea County’s Board of Commissioners, said the county had been seeking proposals and ideas on how to generate more research activity in the county — from national research labs in the state such as Los Alamos and Sandia, and universities.
“And all of a sudden, Pegasus walks up... it’s kind of like the field of dreams,” he said.
Once Pegasus decided it wanted to locate in New Mexico, state economic developers initially identified 16 potential sites. Earlier this year, the list was winnowed to two finalists: Lea and Dona Ana counties.
In recent years, U.K.-based Urenco, a uranium enrichment company built a major facility in Lea County, which already had a strong skilled workforce of engineers, scientists and researchers, according to Lea County Manager Mike Gallagher.
Another factor in the county’s favor was the availability of vacant land — CITE will need up to 20 square miles, which can be aggregated from private owners willing to sell.
CITE’s potential economic impact to the county has yet to be fully determined, but Gallagher believes landing the facility will further establish Lea County as an “attractive place to conduct applied research, and hopefully, commercialization of such research.”
The testing center will comprise urban, suburban and rural environments, including a mix of new and aging infrastructure, according to Pegasus. This will give its clients the opportunity to test and evaluate their technologies in a facility that closely simulates the real-world. “The test infrastructure will be ‘unpopulated’ allowing for a true laboratory without the complication and safety issues arising from having residents,” the company said.
“As to CITE itself, its design, its scale and its scope, it’s one of a kind,” said Robert H. Brumley, managing director of Pegasus Global Holdings LLC. “It’s the only one, not only in the United States, but in the world.”
“There are test and evaluation facilities that test traffic, and test smart grid or test computer operating systems in urban areas,” he added. “But this is the only one where we have brought all user application groups together in an environment where you can actually see it operate in what would be the substantially prevalent infrastructure in the U.S.
“At the end of the day, this is one of a kind.”
CITE will be located in unincorporated Lea County, west of the city of Hobbs. Brumley said Pegasus chose an area “ based on the available land, infrastructure and breadth of community support that is required for this type of project.”
That support should not be underestimated, local officials say. The county, Hobbs, the county’s economic development arm, county residents and New Mexico Junior College “all cooperated in a very positive way to discuss this project, to recruit this project,” Gallagher said.
Brumley added, “The county commissioners as well as the business leadership of the county have all recognized that a way to mitigate the boom-and-bust cycle is to bring in industries that are either related to energy, ancillary to energy, or like with us, ancillary to science and technology.”
Another attraction to Lea County, Brumley said, was the success and support of businesses already located there.
“Having the opportunity to talk to these other firms about their experience of moving into the county — that was a very big sale point,” he said. “Nothing convinces an investor to invest in a community like the success story of the guy who invested in the community before you and has a positive story to tell.”
Gallagher said the community spoke with one voice: “It’s been noted that at times — the people from CITE, they didn’t know if they were talking to a city representative or a county representative, because we were working in synch with each other.”