Las Cruces reels in Big Tuna
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Las Cruces reels in Big Tuna

Jun 23, 2023

LAS CRUCES - Big Tuna USA, a company with a unique niche in the North American pipe industry, has chosen Las Cruces as its manufacturing center, the company announced Tuesday at Las Cruces City Hall. It plans to hire 30 workers over the next three years, and will manufacture and distribute a high-density pipe product patented by the Australian-based Long Pipes Ltd.

The glass and epoxy piping is thinner, with a larger internal diameter and a higher pressure rating, than current market solutions. The company's selection of Las Cruces as its manufacturing center could help give the city a larger role in the state's lucrative oil and gas industry, proponents say.

Big Tuna USA has signed a lease on a vacant 15,000-square-foot building that sits on 7.5 acres at 1846 W. Amador Ave.

The company will be manufacturing a glass-reinforced epoxy pipe, made from glass cloth and epoxy resin. The initial target market for the piping will be the oil and gas industry for use in process water management systems.

According to Mike Watters, director of operations for Big Tuna USA, the product has several advantages over traditional piping. Fiberglass, he said, is expensive to manufacture. High-density polyethylene — known in the industry as HDPE — is derated based on the chemical content and temperature of the material running through the pipe. Steel piping has to be welded in the field, which can make labor costs prohibitive.

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"Our manufacturing technology makes a very thin-walled, high-pressured pipe," Watters told the Sun-News. "The wall thickness for the initial pipe we’re manufacturing is about .400 (inches) thick, and it allows for operating pressures around 400-500 psi."

The company chose Las Cruces over other locations in neighboring states because of its strong business climate, workforce, transportation infrastructure and incentives. The company plans to invest $7.5 million of private money into the manufacturing site, while the state has pledged $200,000 in economic assistance from its LEDA closing fund. The city has also pledged $75,000 from its municipal LEDA dollars.

Watters said there was another factor that helped seal the deal — the people of Las Cruces.

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"Everybody we’ve dealt with has been extremely friendly and helpful," Watters said. "And we intend to use as many local resources as we can moving forward, as we put this project together. We’re very excited to become a part of the community."

He said the city's location — in the interstates 10 and 25 corridors – was also a deciding factor.

"Getting product north to Colorado and Wyoming, and (also) east and west, is very easy. And shipping rates out of Las Cruces are very reasonable," Watters said. "There's a lot of product that must be coming into the area, and trucking firms are seeking out outbound traffic."

Big Tuna was recruited to Las Cruces by the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance.

"The potential for growth right now is almost unlimited," Watters said. "We’ve been being pushed, especially by the oil and gas industry, for the past two years to get this project released. This year, we are going to manufacture about 50 miles of pipe. Next year, we figure we’ll be manufacturing about 300 miles of pipe, and then 600 miles the following year."

Watters said the company hopes to be producing 3,000 miles of pipe per year within five to six years.

More:Oil and gas generated $3.1 billion in state revenue last year

With regard to personnel, he said the company hopes to begin hiring in June or July of this year. The positions will include machine operators, grinders and inspectors.

"We’ll probably hire an initial crew of 10 people, and then start hiring two to three every month as we ramp up the production," Watters said. "As the facility grows, we’ll start adding some of the non-direct labor people — accounting, purchasing, inventory, engineering — those types of things."

State and local lawmakers weighed in on Tuesday's announcement, as did those in the economic development community.

"I'm absolutely thrilled by our continued economic expansion across key growth areas," said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in a written statement. "Every new partner, each new investment, all the new jobs — all of it boosts the signal we're sending to industry here and elsewhere that New Mexico is open for business and ready for significant growth."

"We have the workforce, we have the business climate, we have the incentives and companies are taking notice," said New Mexico Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Alicia J. Keyes. "Big Tuna is a great example of a startup company coming to New Mexico where it can take a great idea and succeed."

"We are excited about this opportunity to welcome yet another international manufacturing operation to Las Cruces," Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima said. "Through the efforts of MVEDA and our economic development team we continue the momentum of industry diversification and new job opportunities for our residents."

"This is an exciting opportunity to bring manufacturing and industry to Las Cruces, and to help build our workforce," Las Cruces Mayor Pro Tem Kasandra Gandara told the Sun-News following the announcement. "These 30-plus jobs will be very important to our community."

"We’re the second-largest city in New Mexico," said Davin Lopez, president and CEO of MVEDA. "It should only make sense that we are part of the supply chain that's supporting our natural resources that really support the state. In this case, we’re able to attract a company that's providing manufacturing components to an industry that's really representative of the state."

Damien Willis is a Lead Reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-541-5443, [email protected] or @DamienWillis on Twitter.

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