By Levi Rickert
After he won the presidency of the Navajo Nation in 2015, President Russell Begaye and key advisors established four pillars by which the new administration would govern: veterans/veterans’ services, youth/elders, infrastructure and job creation.
Begaye realizes job creation has to occur to grow the Navajo Nation’s tribal economy on a reservation that is 27,413 square miles in size and home to some 300,000 tribal citizens.
During the first year of his administration, Begaye worked with Raytheon Co., a major defense contractor, committed to build a new $5 million, 30,000-square-foot warehouse, at the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (NAPI) Industrial Park south of Farmington, New Mexico. The facility is bringing 70 new jobs.
Prior to the opening of the new warehouse, Raytheon employed 300 highly skilled employees. Some with traditional Navajo skills, such as weaving and making jewelry, who were a good fit for the intricate work at Raytheon. In 2016, the Navajo Nation presented its Business of the Year award to Raytheon Diné highlighting the facility’s strong business growth, positive community impact, innovative manufacturing capabilities and technically advanced products.
In late April, Begaye participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to formally open the warehouse. The new warehouse enables Raytheon to increase production efficiency, while reducing risk to materials and products. The Raytheon Diné Facility stores and generates parts for 12 missile programs, including the Tomahawk cruise missile, Javelin weapon system and Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile.
Raytheon says the number of additional jobs could rise to 200 as demand increases. Raytheon’s products are being used in campaigns against the Islamic State.
The types of jobs include assembly line operators, engineers, supervisors and managers. Many of the employees are experts in intricate mechanical, electro-mechanical and harness assembly. The good news is over 90 percent of those employed by Raytheon at the new facility are Navajo Nation citizens.
“With a foundation of skilled Navajo technicians crafting the highest quality products, the 93-percent Navajo-staffed facility in Diné includes Navajo team members in all roles from operators, to engineers, to management,” Begaye said. “Safety, security, professionalism and respect are hallmarks of the Raytheon Diné team. Raytheon’s efficient and effective manufacturing practices make the company a clear choice as a best business.”
The skills learned at the Raytheon operation are transferrable and can be applied anywhere, Begaye said. “The dollars brought into the Navajo Nation by these employees is a great opportunity. We are willing to invest in these industries and we will spend more to provide additional jobs for our people.”
Raytheon Company, headquartered in Waltham, Mass., is happy with the production from the employees at the Diné facility.
“Our NAPI facility has delivered exceptional production and safety metrics, making it the ideal location for us to expand our high-rate production capability,” Louise Francesconi, Raytheon Missile Systems president, said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “We look forward to building on its success with this expansion.”
The Navajo Nation paid for over 95 percent of the funds needed to complete the project while San Juan County contributed the balance. The Navajo Nation retains ownership of the building and leases it to Raytheon.
“This expansion would not have been possible without the strong partnership among the Navajo Nation, the state of New Mexico, and Raytheon,” said Taylor W. Lawrence, president of Raytheon Missile Systems. “Growth here highlights the ongoing importance of these systems to our nation’s defense.”
“We’re proud to partner with Raytheon and the Navajo Nation in the work to diversify New Mexico’s private sector economy,” said New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. “With this expansion, we continue to uphold New Mexico’s proud tradition as a leader in national defense.”
“We, as a nation, must diversify our economy and bring in other forms of jobs and revenue,” Begaye said. “We are creating the Naa’taa’nii Development Corp. to recruit companies to the Navajo Nation. Our people have the intricate skills, attention to details, and focus on quality to build high-tech products for consumers.” ♦