Albuquerque jet plant changes to tortilla factory

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The state spent millions to help build an Albuquerque aircraft hangar that was supposed to house a huge, high-tech manufacturer for a long time. However, that building will soon start making something a lot different.

It might sound bizarre, but the old Eclipse Aviation hangar, where the startup company made fancy jets, is now getting ready to churn out a lot of tortillas.

“This is state of the art equipment,” said Dennis Carpenter, co-owner and president of New Mexico Foods LLC.

Massive machinery more than 18-feet tall towered over Carpenter as he recently gave News 13’s camera a look at the company’s tortilla making operations. Under the company’s current set-up, thousands of pounds of tortilla dough can be measured, cut, proofed, squashed, baked, cooled, inspected and packaged for sale in a matter of minutes. The machine uses about 600 pounds of dough in about 12 to 18 minutes.

“We’re running our plant right now 16 hours a day and we’re going to 24 [hours] six [days a week],” said Carpenter.

A recent deal with a major food distributor is allowing New Mexico Foods to expand their corn and flour tortilla and chip making operations. The company says it is seeing increased demand to export more New Mexican food.

“Comes out of the oven about 185 [degrees,] that’s what gives us our burn,” said Carpenter. “It has done very well for us.”

With sales up, the company says it’s now planning a record expansion worth $15 million and about 35 new jobs. However, the expansion won’t be just at their current home near University Boulevard and Sunport Boulevard.

New Mexico Foods’ tortilla making arm called “Rio Grande Tortilla Factory,” is now in the process of moving in to a nearly 53,000 square foot former aircraft hangar. If the space looks familiar, there’s a reason for that.

In 2006, the hangar was built by Eclipse Aviation with about $19 million in funding from New Mexico’s State Investment Council (SIC.) The jet factory brought more than 600 jobs and lots of economic promise for New Mexico.

“Anyone with that kind of money, buy one!” said former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez in a 2006 interview with News 13.

However, that idea didn’t come true. Not enough people bought the jet and the company accrued hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. Investors forced Eclipse into bankruptcy in 2009 and emptied the building shortly after.

“We need to clean the whole facility, basically,” said Carpenter, about the hangar.

The tortilla factory is now in the process of moving its equipment in to the old hangar with a big promise of expanding operations.

“This particular facilities has all of the components that we needed,” said Carpenter.

The tortilla factory says tall ceilings will help them get all the equipment inside the new facility. They say compressed air piping and an old grease trap, wastewater treatment area will also be reused.

With 28 years in business, the tortilla factory believes they won’t be leaving the hangar anytime soon.

“This is an opportunity, big opportunity for us and we hope to take advantage of it,” said Carpenter.

Operations should begin in the new building in the next two months. The factory is also getting a $30 million tax break from Bernalillo County for the expansion in the form of an Industrial Revenue Bond.

Eclipse is still in business, but under a new company called One Aviation. Earlier this year, the jet maker said it was still making about one jet per months, while it serviced others.

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