World View, beneficiary of $15 million in Arizona taxpayer funds, lays off workers


World View balloon explosion

TUCSON — World View Enterprises, Inc. announced it laid off 10 employees last week in an effort to reorganize.

In a statement provided to KGUN News, World View claimed the company had “identified the need to retool our personnel to align our resources with skill sets we’ll need for the future.”

The company cited new and different challenges as its reason to examine every part of its business to better position the company for the future.

The timing of the statement was unfortunate for World View co-founder, Mark Kelly, the former astronaut and husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who recently announced his decision to run as a Democrat for the Senate seat occupied by Republican Martha McSally next year.

Pima County has ponied up $15 million for the company’s headquarters and launchpad, as well as almost $500,000 for equipment and furniture.

Documents obtained by the ADI show that taxpayers  purchased a tracking antenna for $90,845, a weather station for $148,936, window coverings for $28,015, systems furniture for $190,339, manufacturing specialty furniture for $109,150, and lockers for $10,337.

The company has been trying to regain credibility after one of its balloons exploded in December 2017.

A video of the explosion obtained by the Arizona Daily Independent, went viral at the time. In it, viewers can see the hydrogen-filled balloon explode and send flames shooting into the sky. As the ADI reported in December 2017, the explosion rocked buildings up to one mile away.

Related article: World View Explosion “Superficial” Damage Costs Double, Half-A-Million In Repairs

With prodding from Supervisor Ally Miller and investigative reporting by the Arizona Daily Independent, it is now known that the cost of repairs to the Pima County facility damaged by the December 19, 2017 hydrogen balloon explosion is more than double what was previously admitted.

County Administrator Charles Huckelberry, who continues to call the damage “superficial” but now adds that it was “significant,” admitted in an August 1 memo to the Board of Supervisors that insurance claims now total $475,196.08, more than double the $200,000 figure he’d been touting for months.

The admission came because Supervisor Miller placed World View on the Aug. 7 Pima County Board of Supervisors agenda. The cost of repairs, Huckelberry argues, “is approximately three percent of the initial building cost” of $15 million.

That number does not include the $5 million in interest expected to be paid as Pima County incurred a loan to build the World View facility. Description of actual damages continues to be left out of his responses, and World View remains silent.

World View, headed up by Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, best known for their participation in the failed Biosphere experiment, has appeared to change course considerably since it received its first seed money from the Arizona Commerce Authority.

When the company applied for the Arizona Commerce Authority’s Spring 2014 Arizona Innovation Challenge, the application stated that the headquarters and laboratory would be located in Tucson and the launch site would be in Page..

Related article: A Closer View Of World View

World View’s statement said, “Danny Ball, NASA’s foremost scientific ballooning expert, selected Page, Arizona for launch operations because of its exceptional weather…. We are assuming a single launch site in the US, which will be in Page, Arizona.

“It is possible that we will have multiple launch sites around the world by 2018. Adding additional international launch locations could increase ticket sales due to more exposure in new tourist markets.”

Nowhere in the non-redacted portions of the documents is there any mention of abandoning their Tucson headquarters or a specific reference to a Tucson launch site.

However, in a memo dated April 15, 2016, Pima County administrator Chuck Huckelberry claims: “Three states competed for the World View headquarters: Florida, New Mexico, and Arizona. In the three state competitive process, the County had to define in some detail the size and function of the World View building.

“The County was told by World View that they had a forecast for demand that required completion of their facility by November 2016 and that both Florida and New Mexico, as part of their incentive packages, had committed to meeting that delivery date.”

What is remarkable about Huckelberry’s claim is that in October 2015, at the Page Municipal Airport, World View “successfully completed a major milestone test flight… keeping the company on track to meet its 2017 goal for private flights with passengers to the edge of space. This test flight carried a scaled down, replica spacecraft to a final altitude of 100,475 feet (30624 meters), successfully marking the transition from sub-scale testing to a historical next stage of development – full scale testing.” 

In that same application, which received support from Arizona Technology Council (ATC), The Bank of Tucson, and Paragon Space Development Corporation (MacCallum and Poynter held interest in the company), the company claimed:

Job and wealth creation in Arizona: Anticipated hires in the next year: 22. [REDACTED] When World View is successful, Arizona stands to gain a growing company that includes sales, operations, high tech manufacturing, and R&D. Within a year, World View will stand up a US-based manufacturing facility dedicated to making the balloons that are critical to these flights.

Launches will occur out of Page, Arizona, which stands to gain an influx of wealthy tourists. World View’s headquarters and R&D are both located in Tucson, Arizona.

According to those familiar with the Tucson site, there has been little visible employee activity since before the explosion.

To view the ACC applications click here and here.

The company was only able to secure from the Federal Aviation Administration a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization valid from August 15, 2017, through August 14, 2018. The FAA informed the company that if it intended “to request renewal of the waiver,” it would have to file a new application.

The ADI was unable to locate a new application for, or receipt of a new Certificate of Waiver or Authorization.

Earlier this year, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled against the Goldwater Institute in one of the three parts of their lawsuit against Pima County. In that lawsuit, Court of Appeals Judge Peter Eckerstrom found that the County entered into the arrangement with World View, a deal with the “express intent of creating specific numbers of jobs at defined salary levels,” according to an article by Capitol Media Services.

“He said the county concluded that World View’s operations — and, by extension, the lease — will have “a significant impact on the economic welfare of Pima County’s inhabitants.”

Related articles:

Pima County, World View, Goldwater Struggle Heats Up

Goldwater Institute To Sue Pima County Over World View Deal

Miller Exposes Goldwater Dim View Of Pima County’s World View Deal

Pima County Attorney Whips Out Goldwater Response

Pima County Financial Woes Deepen

Pima County Taxpayers To Pony-Up For Code Name “Curvature”

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