April 19, 2015

Rock Hill to serve as the model for new “ghost town”

It sounds like a few pages torn from the script of the 1998 Jim Carrey Film “The Truman Show.”

In just a few short years, a global research firm will cut the ribbon on a 15-square mile ghost town just outside Hobbs, New Mexico.

And it’s all based on the city of Rock Hill.

Washington, D.C.-based Pegasus Global Holdings announced this week the $1 billion facility, where construction will start in late June, will serve as a testing site for futuristic enterprise-level intelligence systems only testable on a mass scale.

“It’s not exactly Rock Hill. Their folks have taken it and modified it based on specific things that they’re trying to accomplish,” said David Vehaun, the city manager of the real Rock Hill. “For instance, the airport in this community is in the southwest part of town and ours is in the northwest part of town.”

The new facility is called the Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (CITE). It’s being billed as a first-of-its-kind “smart” city. It would contain intelligent traffic systems and next-generation wireless systems, as well. The point of the town is to test new technologies on without interfering with everyday life. In theory, it would allow concepts like self-driving cars to be safely tested without impacting other residents.

Vehaun said, while he wasn’t expecting a research firm to build a city modeled after Rock Hill, he wasn’t surprised.

“There are lots of communities across the United States that are the size of Rock Hill,” he told Rock Hill station WRHI, “So if you’re doing something where you want to reach the most people, then you want to do that based on a community that looks like America. And in many ways, Rock Hill really does.”

Vehaun speculates that Rock Hill was likely chosen for its technologically-savvy infrastructure and communications backbone. He says that his staff is contacted on a consistent basis by real, living cities seeking information on projects that are underway or have been successful…and he’s flattered by a firm who’s starting at the drawing board with Rock Hill as the model.

Hobbs, New Mexico is a growing, oil-industry-based city of about 43,000 people.

Andrew Kiel of Rock Hill station WRHI contributed to this report.