Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pegasus Flies Again ? Well, maybe.

Like some unnatural Hollywood monster, the inaptly named Pegasus Project has arisen from the dead to beguile our City Councilors, County Commissioners, and Important People again.

It's an incredibly neat idea: a realistic fake town, unpopulated, to facilitate all sorts of studies and experiments.

The same folks started pushing this deal here in 2012.

Eventually the showmen settled on Hobbs. Around June 1 Pegasian executives were “on the ground in Hobbs to prepare for the June 29 groundbreaking” – but on July 13 they stole away in the middle of the night.

They lacked the guts or grace even to tell Hobbs civic leaders they were leaving. Kind of like golfer Rory McIlroy telling tennis champ Caroline Wozniacki their engagement was over – on a cell-phone call so short she hung up thinking he was joking. Except the Pegasians didn't even have that much gumption.

The Hobbs folks learned the facts from the evening news. The excuse given – like the excuses given for the ends of most affairs – didn't seem to hold up. They claimed vaguely “some very complicated and unforeseen issues with acquiring the land.” But they reportedly hadn't even talked to their friends and allies in Hobbs about trying to resolve the purported late-blooming problem.

My instinct when someone walks away with such a flimsy excuse after claiming to be weeks from ground-breaking is that the funding wasn't quite there. Maybe someone reneged on something. Maybe the “We're breaking ground this month!” story was a wild shot at getting the rest of the funding they needed. If you're serious about that June 29 groundbreaking, you make more of an effort to solve a last-minute problem; but if you were blowing smoke in hopes of pulling the financing together, the last-minute problem might be pretty convenient. (Folks in Hobbs read the tea leaves the same way.)

Unless there's a real good explanation – and these folks declined to explain it to me back then – no one over 12 should extend himself or herself very far to facilitate the game this time.

Probably these people are again nowhere near having the funds for this thing. They likely hope to use their activities here to help generate funding. That's fine, so long as they're thoroughly truthful with investors. But one danger in the modern world is that if things go South, disappointed investors will sue everyone in sight. If these promoters stray beyond the truth a little, and we're complicit or even seem to be, we could end up paying a settlement to some plaintiff or class of plaintiffs for helping make this show look ready-for-prime-time when it wasn't.

Is the whole thing a scam? I don't know. But if I were a local official I'd have a long, candid talk with my peers in Hobbs, and ask some tough questions of the promoters. (Actually, I was reassured to learn today that this conversation has happened.) I'd also stick strictly to doing my job, and not make the least public statement that could be taken out of context and painted as more than I meant it to be.

More generally, New Mexico politicians chase after companies the way Nepalese villagers scramble to steer a visitor to their brother-in-law's hotel; but few politicians attempt the harder tasks that might create an infrastructure and a quality of life and education that might make someone want to move a business here.

Many business want an educated work-force prepared to do challenging work; but improving education takes too much money and creativity.

Marriage equality is essential for most modern corporations, so they can bring or hire the best people, not just the best straight people; but many business interests scoffed when our local officials expressing support for marriage equality in New Mexico. Quality of life matters, yet the Chamber of Commerce opposed the Monument, which was a tangible step to improve the quality of life here.

I think the Pegasus “town” is a great idea, assuming it's no environmental problem. If it were here, drawing into town all sorts of interesting studies and programs, that'd be a fine development for Doña Ana County. But these guys acted like asses in Hobbs. They spoke confidently of breaking ground within weeks. They showed they lack manners and maybe veracity. Any public official should ask these folks a boatload of questions.

In fact, despite whatever the Pegasians released, they've apparently not contacted the City of Las Cruces yet. City Manager Robert Garza says that when he read the news story he asked city staff whether anyone had been contacted, and everyone answered in the negative.

Meanwhile Mayor Ken Miyagashima was quoted as hoping that just as the San Fernando Valley became “Silicon Valley” the Mesilla Valley could become “High-Tech Valley”; but his high-tech smart-phone could have told him Silicon Valley, surrounding Palo Alto, is eight hours' drive North of L.A.'s San Fernando Valley.
[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 15 June, in the Las Cruces Sun-News.  Interestingly, it exemplifies the fact that my views as a columnist don't necessarily represent the newspaper's views, since (coincidentally) the Sun-News had  editorialized concerning Pegasus  earlier this week.  
In fact, though, I agree with most of the editorial.  While the editorial is far more favorable and my column far more negative, we agree that (a) it's a very interesting idea, wherever you put it, and (b) it would probably be a good thing for the County if they put it here, including its likelihood of drawing in other interesting people and projects.    The newspaper made the point that so long as it isn't costing the City or County anything, let's root for it; and I agree.   
I'd just add the caveat, as discussed above, that the evidence tends to lead a reasonable observer to question whether the financing will be there, in this economy, for such an interesting idea, and whether or not the folks organizing it are folks I'd be in a big hurry to trust.  Both are questions, not answers; I hope both funding and trust develop.  (Again, I'm assuming for now that there wouldn't be significant environmental/ecological problems flowing from building the new "town.")
So I'll be interested to see what develops -- and open to hearing facts that might expand my view on the subject, if local officials or Pegasus reps ever choose to share 'em.]
[My further point was that our leaders tend to salivate at the most modest indication a business might move here, but don't spend enough time (a) helping local endeavors develop and (b) creating the conditions a business might like to see here, such as a strong educational system, quality of life, equality, etc.  That's more important, and deserves exposition by someone better prepared than I to opine on business development.]

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