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Director plans collaborative economic development

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Sandoval County is leading the state in trying to figure out economic development, and Jami Grindatto, interim CEO and president of the Sandoval Economic Alliance, will spend at least the next three months trying to turn its plans into a reality.

The SEA board of directors contracted with Grindatto, a former Intel Corp. executive, through Oct. 24. It will conduct a national search for a permanent president and CEO, and Grindatto said he intends to apply.

Jami Grindatto.

Jami Grindatto.

Grindatto visited with the Observer editorial board last week to discuss where he sees the organization headed.

The alliance will soon announce a new retention and expansion program for businesses already operating in Sandoval County, Grindatto said, in partnership with Albuquerque Economic Development.

The Mid-Region Council of Governments, based in Albuquerque, has been working with area businesses, as well as AED, to build a new brand for the metro area. Grindatto said the SEA has joined those efforts. It has also partnered with AED and MRCOG on cooperative marketing opportunities.

Grindatto contrasted the approach of the alliance, and its emphasis on partnerships, with how things happened before.

“We lost deals in the past, I’m convinced, because we didn’t have our act together across New Mexico. The (state) Economic Development Department was doing one thing, the (New Mexico) Partnership was doing another thing, AED did a third thing and economic development up here in Rio Rancho did a fourth thing,” he explained.

Requests for information and proposals, as well as leads, arrive regularly at the alliance. Grindatto said he has made it a priority to respond quickly to companies that express interest in New Mexico. He will ask his board for permission to soon hire one or more people to help with sales and marketing.

The SEA and AED encourage companies to relocate in Albuquerque or Rio Rancho, he said, noting their employees will most likely live in both cities, regardless of where the company operates. Grindatto promotes Sandoval County because its local and county governments want more businesses that pay gross receipts taxes.

AED recently provided the alliance a promising lead: a company that has decided to move to Rio Rancho.

“Albuquerque Economic Development has taken the lead to manage that project for us at this point, because I do not have the resources to personally manage them fulltime,” Grindatto said.

An office manager and research director are the only employees, besides Grindatto, now at the SEA.

Grindatto said he met with about a half-dozen CEOs in the last two weeks. They told him they hadn’t heard much from economic developers in the last two to three years, and their communication with them consisted of little more than filling out an annual survey.

The SEA will likely soon convene breakfast meetings with groups of business leaders on an industry-by-industry basis. Grindatto also expressed interest in improving the SEA website and possibly starting a newsletter.

The alliance aims to help create jobs in the pueblos, rural areas and smaller communities that fall within urban and rural corridors in Sandoval County. Grindatto said Santa Ana Pueblo wants to team up for economic development efforts.

The SEA board continues to take nominations and has recently considered applications from people living in the Interstate 25 and US 550 corridors.

The long-term targets for the alliance include creating, each year for a decade, 700 economic-base jobs, at companies that can produce products and deliver services for clients outside of the state. Grindatto said he expects the SEA to produce fewer than 700 its first year, and then exceed the goal later.

Between May and June, the Observer reported last week, employment levels in Rio Rancho fell to those last seen in January, effectively erasing the city’s job gains this year.

Grindatto said the city needs more buildings to attract new businesses. The county’s economic development plan calls for 2,500 manufacturing jobs by 2024. The Observer reported last month only about 144,000 square feet in local industrial buildings remain available for leasing in Rio Rancho.

The alliance will aim for a budget of $600,000 per year. Grindatto expects the city and county will each contribute $200,000 annually, with the private sector making up the difference through investments.

Interested individuals can discuss and update the SEA plan for economic development during three morning meetings at the MRCOG office in Albuquerque on Aug. 20, Sept. 17 and Oct. 21. RSVP with Ann Simon (asimon@mrcog-nm.gov) or Jeanie Springer-Knight (jeanie@springer5.com).

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