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Mojave Air & Space Port CEO Drees announces she will leave her position early next year

Mojave Air & Space Port CEO and General Manager Karina Drees, who has led the internationally known center in eastern Kern County for nearly five years, has announced she will leave her position early next year.

Drees said in a news release she intends to serve out the remaining months of her five-year contract and has committed to remaining in the position until the next CEO is chosen. Her contract officially ends Jan. 15.

Board Secretary Jim Balentine, MASP’s longest serving director, said he's grateful for the CEO's vision, not only to grow the organization but her ability to "execute the necessary objectives to achieve our goals."

The airport has never been in a more stable financial position than under Drees’ leadership, he said.

According to the news release, the space port’s board of directors has already begun the search for her replacement.

"The past eight years in Mojave have been the most rewarding of my career," Drees said in a statement. "I am fortunate to work with an exceptional, service-oriented team that will ensure our customers receive quality care during this transition."

Bill Deaver, a longtime Mojave resident now in his third year on MASP's board of directors, was one of several Mojave residents who met back in the early 1970s to form an airport district to locally manage what had been a dusty little county airport.

Since its founding, Deavers said Wednesday, the airport turned spaceport has, thanks to the efforts of three CEOs, several board members and innovative tenants, evolved into the world's first commercial spaceport, a busy general aviation airport and an active industrial park with a broad array of businesses.

Indeed, MASP grew to become a commercial flight test and research facility now serving about 100 tenants, including companies such as Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic and Stratolaunch Systems.

In years past, it was home to the aircraft Voyager, which flew around the world in 1986 without stopping or refueling, and SpaceShipOne, a privately funded space plane that won the $10-million Ansari X Prize for suborbital spaceflight in 2004.

Drees became the first woman at MASP to serve as CEO.

"Aerospace is a major industry in eastern Kern and the Antelope Valley, and MASP plays a key role along with Edwards Air Force Base, Naval Air Weapons Station-China Lake, the Palmdale Airport, and the R-2508 Restricted Airspace in this industry which benefits the entire 'Aerospace Valley,'" said Deaver, who also serves on the Mojave Chamber of Commerce board.

"Our biggest challenge is to continue to attract and retain aerospace and related businesses, and jobs, especially in the growing commercial space industry," he said. "As the industry grows competition increases. Mojave was the first and is pretty much the only functioning commercial spaceport despite all the hoopla."

Drees and her predecessors, Stu Witt and Dan Sabovich, each played a part in the growth of MASP.

"Our challenges are to continue to attract and retain relevant businesses to the Mojave Air & Space Port and the community."

All three CEOs and all who have served on the district board since 1972, have seen these challenges as opportunities, Deaver said.

The posting for the CEO position can be found on mojaveairport.com and will remain open until Nov. 13.

Drees' current annual salary is $205,000. MASP is posting the job with a starting salary range of $150,000 to $200,000.

"The board understands the unique qualities and qualifications necessary to fill this role," Balentine said. "We are dedicated to growing our economic engine in east Kern County by providing an environment where business and innovation can thrive."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.