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Editorial: Innovate ABQ deserves UNM regents’ support

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Today, the University of New Mexico has an opportunity it should not let slip by.

UNM regents are poised to vote on whether to move ahead with Innovate ABQ, a forward-looking $13 million plan to create a private-public “brain hub” with the potential to attract businesses and high-paying jobs to Albuquerque and New Mexico – while boosting the university and Downtown.

The innovative public-private venture that has strong support from the city would seek to bring together the expertise of New Mexico’s research universities and the state’s premier science and technology laboratories, entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, and business interests with capital to invest and the know-how to take those ideas to market.

The plan involves acquiring two properties – the former First Baptist Church site Downtown and the Aperture Center at Mesa del Sol where some UNM and Sandia National Laboratories research staff already work.

Up for action today is the $6.6 million purchase of the First Baptist property. Another $640,000 would be needed to develop a master plan and design criteria.

Nearly all of the $7.2 million is in hand. The city of Albuquerque has $2 million in bond money that Mayor Richard Berry has pledged if the project is located Downtown. The New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union has added $3 million to the pot. A $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Commerce Department is also on the table with an acceptance deadline of Jan. 5.

If regents reject the grant, it goes away. But, since only a couple of weeks are left to claim the money, even tabling the measure effectively kills the project.

UNM President Bob Frank says the Innovate ABQ vision goes beyond being another business incubator. It is modeled after venture capitalist and author Victor Hwang’s “rainforest” concept in which people of diverse interests and talents are brought together in a supportive live/work/play environment to collaborate and give birth to ideas from the bottom up.

New Mexico is too dependent on federal and public sector jobs. In today’s uncertain economic climate, the state badly needs to diversify its economy. Legitimate questions about overall risk and potential environmental concerns have been asked and answered.

Regents should approve this important step toward a more vibrant economy and a better university. Failure to do so helps cement our future in the state’s poverty-ridden, government-dependent past.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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