A Billion Dollar Ghost Town

To close our theme of communications about Big Projects, we take a cue from the season – Halloween. Name a better Big Project befitting the day than this — a “Billion Dollar Ghost Town.”

Talk about a fright! If you come to this planned city – sporting homes, businesses, streets and utilities – you won’t find anybody living there. It will be as if the entire population had disappeared. Eaten by zombies, perhaps? Snatched by aliens?

Credit: High Desert Drifters

But don’t call a zombie hunter or Steven Spielberg just yet. This Big Project, planned for New Mexico, is actually people-less on purpose. At a cost of about $1 billion, the small city is being built solely to test new innovations. And people, well, they would actually be a liability to the concept. The media has dubbed it, “A Billion Dollar Ghost Town.”  And we talked to the person behind it, Robert Brumley.

Many Big Projects command attention and dazzle us. Think Empire State Building. Some are major roads or bridges helping us get from Point A to Point B. Others are stadiums or arenas or concert halls, where we cheer our favorite team or musician.

As a “ghost town,” today’s Big Project is the complete opposite. It will be built in a desolate area and be devoid of people except for scientists, innovators and dreamers who will test their latest concepts to see if they are actually applicable.

“There’s nothing else like this in scale or scope in the world,” said Brumley, the Senior Managing Director of Pegasus Global Holdings, an international technology development firm.

The idea was born out of frustration, he said. There was simply no place to test new innovations in a real-world environment. Labs are too sterile, he said. What works there very well not work in a real city, where all sorts of interferences – radio signals, building materials, cell phone towers – could impact a new device. Brumley said he heard all sort of “war stories” about new technology working just fine in a lab setting but failing when applied elsewhere. “You don’t get the same result.”

Credit: Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

So the big idea for this Big Project was hatched.

And when he began floating the concept, people immediately got it, he said. The communication part wasn’t difficult. People have grown so tech-savvy that they understand that this concept – which may have not been recognized as a need 20 years ago – makes perfect sense today. Yes, sure, a city without people. A city to test things we don’t have, but will need in the future.

The project also got a boost from an Associate Press story thanks to the title, “A Billion Dollar Ghost Town,” Brumley said. That headline – and the natural draw of such an intriguing project – helped the story and this Big Project go viral, he said.

The city will actually be called the Center for Innovation, Testing And Evaluation (CITE). Based on the actual city of Rock Hill, South Carolina, it will have all the trappings: streets, homes, offices, running water, electricity…

Credit: World Architecture News

“It’s not a smart city, it’s a dumb city,” Brumley quipped, meaning it will offer the same hurdles as any other American city, which were built years and years ago and don’t necessarily conform to the latest technological advances. But very smart people will try to work their magic there. For instance, there’s really no safe place to test driverless cars, Brumley noted. (Think driving the 101 up the Pacific coastline in a driverless car!) But this city will be the perfect place for such experimentation.

Credit: Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation

Brumley’s customers – innovators – need a site to test products, he says. His company has identified six customer bases: federal labs and agencies, universities and research centers, commercial industry, non-profits and resources distributors. This leads to its future location – New Mexico. It’s a state that happens to lead the nation in federally funded research. The Los Alamos National Laboratory is based there, for instance. But the state is 49th in commercialization, Brumley noted, so it needs such projects. Selling the idea of the project to the state was not difficult, given those factors. So, messaging focused on jobs. The project is expected to create 350 jobs as well as attract all sorts of supporting businesses that will create thousands more, Brumley said. Technical centers are booms to communities, he said, because they bring smart, innovative and progressive thinkers.

The project was hailed statewide, too. Governor Susana Martinez called it “one of the most exclusive and innovative” economic development projects the state has witnessed. Indeed, the initial site for the project was near a town called Hobbs. As reported on Disclose.tv the mayor, Sam Cobb, celebrated the news.

Credit: The Historical Society of New Mexico and the Office of the State Historian

But Big Projects have Big Challenges. For this one, the land deal couldn’t be finalized, Brumley said. That’s led to some doubt whether the project will actually be realized, but Brumley said another site is being secured. He hopes to break ground soon.

And his advice to other innovators? “Don’t let people tell you that something can’t be done. If you know in your gut that it can be done, then do it.”

In short, don’t be scared…even if it is Halloween.

Thank you Mr. Brumley for your insight on your Big Project. Here’s hoping the concept makes future innovations market-ready earlier. And that the Billion Dollar Ghost Town stays clear of tumbleweeds!

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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