Featherweight Factory

A new economic development project with Santa Fe public investment will help local, lightweight RV company employ 20-plus workers

What started in a garage as a small construction operation for ultra-light camper trailers that even motorcycles can tow has now expanded to a 5,000-square-foot facility.

Santa Fe-based Earth Traveler Teardrop Trailers’ rapid growth over the past five years looks likely to continue as the City of Santa Fe aims to invest $125,000 in the company as part of a local economic development program.

If approved, the city would act as a fiscal agent to manage a $100,000 appropriation from the New Mexico Local Economic Development Act fund, plus $25,000 in city funds to support Earth Traveler’s upward trajectory.

Mayor Alan Webber sponsored legislation introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting that would green-light the project with local business Earth Traveler, following two committee meetings and two governing body meetings with input from the public. The last of which falls on April 27.

Webber applauded the economic developments office for finding “ways to grow and add employment opportunities for our folks here in Santa Fe by using the city as a catalyst for growth and development.”

Grants from the state’s Local Economic Development Act fund help municipalities finance economic development projects. In the case of Earth Traveler, the company was uniquely positioned to help Santa Fe diversify its economy while bringing in revenue from outside the state, explains Rich Brown, director of community and economic development for the city.

The innovative characteristic of Earth Traveler’s design comes from its ultra-light weight, with each trailer weighing between 250 and 300 pounds.

“With the switch from combustible, gasoline vehicles to electrical vehicles…it might be the perfect towable RV for that market,” says Laura Esteves De Irlanda, the company’s co-founder.

Because Earth Traveler makes the featherweight trailers from scratch, the number of tools, materials and molds needed for construction takes up a lot of space, Esteves De Irlanda tells SFR. Moving into a larger facility was necessary because her business was trying to scale up to keep pace with demand. “We kept getting requests and requests,” she says.

Esteves De Irlanda says the grant would be used to pay employees and rent on their commercial space. The legislation also notes the investment will help Earth Traveler purchase a Silicone Vacuum System, which will increase the speed of production of trailers.

A memo sent to city councilors estimates that over the next 18 months, the company’s sales target could reach $4.5 million with the city’s support.

New Mexico’s Economic Development Department estimates that the project could create 23 jobs in Santa Fe and deliver over $40 million in economic impact over 10 years.

The company was part of the 2019 cohort of bizMIX, a program the city ran until that year to help local entrepreneurs get their fledgling businesses off the ground, Brown says.

Earth Traveler’s initial successes in the bizMIX program and as a young company caught Brown’s attention.

We “reached out to them and said, ‘Hey, looks like you’re doing great. We want to remind you again, that one of our growth opportunities as a state is that you can apply for LEDA incentives,’” says Brown.

The benefits are clear, he adds, noting, “They’re putting the money in the city, they’re bringing jobs to the city, and they’re also bringing construction to the city.”

If the legislation is approved later next month, Brown says, the company must provide job reports proving that it’s keeping up with the projected schedule of generating employment.

While adding jobs is one aspect of Brown’s interest in Earth Traveler, outdoor recreation is another, and that’s a sector the city hopes to develop.

“We’re moving beyond tourism, and now we’re looking at outdoor recreation and manufacturing,” Brown says.

He notes that the city is making efforts to break into other sectors of the economy, such as food innovation, advanced technology and healthcare, to make the city less dependent on the state’s tumultuous oil and gas industry.

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