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While residents of Sierra County, which hosts the center, pay a spaceport sales tax, some are doubtful that the area will reap the benefits of their investment in the facility, for which Virgin Galactic pays $1 million in annual rent.
"We should not be building a base of operations for a billionaire. This is commercial spaceflight, and the commercial aspect of it should be handled by the industry," said retiree Ron Fenn. "Mr. Branson has more than enough money to build this facility himself instead of requiring the poor people of this community to build it."
Fenn and other skeptics point out that a visitor center originally envisaged for a site in downtown Truth or Consequences will now be built next to the interstate instead.
Meanwhile, a new southern access road is to be built with allocated funds of $14.5 million to take traffic directly to the facility from locations like Las Cruces and El Paso, Texas, and will not pass through Truth or Consequences.
But others in the town, which locals refer to as T or C, feel that the spaceport and its anchor tenant have brought valuable exposure that will give local businesses a lift, among them Wilkes.
"Any industry that comes in and has a positive effect on the community increases everyone's business. When the tide goes up, all the boats rise. So if we all work together, we can all do well," said Wilkes, who said that she has met with Virgin staffers in their outreach.
Many others in the town, where business closures are all too frequent, feel the same way, like Cindy Bellelli, who said she "jumped on the bandwagon" to offer space-themed foil-wrapped health-food snacks to tourists.
"I came up with Galactic Granola Meteors, and before I knew it, I had five or six customers," she said. She is up to seven or eight distributors and is in the process of getting state certified.
Whether the anticipated spaceflights bring prosperity to the town or not, local store owner Kay Thompson says it has already given the community something priceless: hope.
"T or C has had a hard time economy-wise," she said, standing behind the counter of her When Pigs Fly Gourmet Shop. "The big thing is the hope."