NHF meets with officials at the ARL Cold Spray Lab at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
By Mark Crawford
HOBBS, NM — There is a unique new pathway to prosperity and innovation being opened in the Permian Basin—commercializing cutting-edge military technologies for use in the private sector. An extensive portfolio of these technologies is managed by the New Horizons Foundation (NHF), a not-for-profit think tank and business accelerator based in Lea County, NM, the heart of America’s energy industry.
Entrepreneurs, start-ups, or established companies looking for new business opportunities can simply contact NHF to see what technologies might fit their goals and interests. Once a technology is selected, NHF, Lea County, and New Mexico Junior College can provide a support structure that is geared toward developing technologies quickly, and at a competitive cost.
The New Horizons Foundation was established in 2011 to diversify the regional economy, create good-paying jobs for its well-trained workers, and help offset the economic hardships of the boom-and-bust oil cycles that always hit rural communities hard in the American West.
“Successful regional economies typically have multiple resources in place, such as technology incubators and accelerators, to foster technology commercialization,” says Steve Vierck, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Lea County. “NHF serves as southeastern New Mexico’s flagship center for cultivating innovation within local industries.”
In the few short years of its existence, NHF has signed agreements with the Department of Defense (DoD) that provide wide-ranging access to the vast resources of the DoD. These agreements include two cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs), an open license agreement for a DoD sound-suppression technology, and a partnership intermediary agreement with the DoD labs that gives NHF clients unprecedented access to over 8,000 researchers, as well as most research facilities, within the DoD network of laboratories.
The most difficult and risky part for any tech start-up—discovering and/or developing technologies—has already been done. These technologies have typically been developed for use in a military environment. They simply await discovery by the private sector for diverse applications across a range of industries.
“The DoD spends about $40 billion a year on research,” says Steve McCleery president New Mexico Junior College, which is located in Lea County. “Through the NHF CRADAs, what can be considered federal labs ‘trade secrets’ and their inventors are available to Lea County companies for further development. Innovative companies are exploring NHF’s portfolio of lab technologies as a way to diversify their current offerings and services.”
Over the short term, NHF’s greatest impact will be helping established businesses in Lea County take advantage of the research being done in the government labs, which can quickly contribute to their business success and ability to enter new markets. “Over the long term, the greatest impact will be creating and diversifying new business opportunities that will have a positive impact on our economy, and help promote economic diversity in a region that has been almost totally dependent on oil and gas in the past,” says Ron Black, president of the NHF Board who is also a member of the Board of Trustees for New Mexico Junior College and chairman of the Lea County Commissioners.
“NHF and our corporate partners will also have the competitive advantage of favored access to promising proof-of-concept studies for noteworthy and potentially promising disruptive technologies in the future,” adds McCleery.
With two technologies secured for commercialization, Lea County is already seeing benefits. A local company, Pemco of New Mexico, is developing these technologies for use in the oilfields in New Mexico and across the West.
“I visited several army labs with NHF representatives,” says owner and president Garry Buie. “At the time, I had no idea what to expect, or what an army research lab could offer oilfield companies. I discovered, however, there were several technologies that could potentially benefit the oilfield manufacturing or oilfield service industries.”
One of these—Cold-Spray technology—will significantly reduce costs for Pemco’s oilfield equipment repair business. Other possible applications include repair of rotating shafts, cracked parts, injection molds, extrusion dies, containers, or obsolete parts from airplanes to tug boats. “We are also licensing a Department of Defense sound-reduction technology to develop a more effective muffler, which will be especially useful for big equipment like drilling rigs, as well as smaller, motor-powered equipment,” he adds.
NHF is also working with state and federal agencies to secure funding for further development of DoD technologies. The Economic Development Corporation of Lea County can connect participating companies to a wide array of state and local programs, ranging from job training funds to financial assistance for new and expanded facilities to high wage job tax credits. Lea County also offers industrial revenue bonds, which provide significant tax exemption for new businesses.
In an ongoing educational role, NHF reaches out to existing businesses about the products, processes, and other assets available through the federal labs. “This includes manufacturing processes, engineering, lab time, securing patents, and marketing—a huge operational advantage for getting new products into the marketplace quickly,” says Buie.
NHF can assist a start-up with the entire process, from research and development through commercialization to delivery. Lea County can help with land acquisition and infrastructure. NHF’s offices are located on the New Mexico Junior College (NMJC) campus, so participating businesses that require new skills for their employees to utilize the new technologies can benefit from NMJC’s state-of-the-art customized job training resources.
Working with NHF
Lea County is open for business—it has a business-friendly government, new housing inventories are increasing, the public school system is solid, and the employee market is stable. Both New Mexico Junior College and the University of the Southwest are highly regarded, provide post-secondary options for Lea County residents. In addition, the close relationship between NHF and New Mexico Junior College makes it easy to create custom technology courses for any industry.
“Larger communities typically depend on their universities to develop innovative products and technologies that can be spun off into the private sector,” says Vierck. “For Lea County, NHF is like having a big research university in our own back yard—with a lot more proven technologies that are ready to be commercialized.”
New Horizons Foundation operates a unique business model, especially for a rural area. “We come at the economic development issue in a different way than most economic development organizations,” Black adds. “We work closely with the Economic Development Corporation of Lea County to complement each other’s goals. The Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico, John Sanchez, recently visited DoD labs on a NHF-sponsored trip and came away impressed, enthused about the potential that the New Horizons’ model might have for other rural areas in New Mexico.”
The first step in utilizing NHF is to contacting executive director Dale Gannaway. He and his staff are approachable, responsive, and proactive in providing whatever information a potential client might need—even if it is just advice.
One of NHF’s greatest accomplishments in its young history is assembling an outstanding team of professionals that can expertly assist a company with an idea—a technology—and develop it all the way through commercialization to create a prosperous business.
Whether it is an entrepreneur with a start-up dream, or an established company that has been around for decades, NHF is committed to helping any company that shares its vision. Selecting a technology through NHF is a win/win for everyone involved. “We are confident that our business model will continue to create momentum that brings more innovation to Lea County communities to create good jobs and expand our economic prosperity,” states Vierck.
Mark Crawford frequently writes about the fields of new research and technology.