In their efforts to attract a new Amazon headquarters to New Mexico, which would inject $5 billion into the state and create 50,000 jobs over the next 15 years, city and state leaders have touted a low-risk location with a mild climate, a business-friendly environment, a talented workforce, our diversity and a strong university system as prime reasons that New Mexico should be chosen to house this technology behemoth. These are all important considerations for any company looking at a new business location, and it should be noted that UNM offers distinct advantages to high-tech companies, such as Amazon, that choose to call New Mexico home.
While residents of the state would not dispute the 310 days of sunshine a year and one of the most culturally diverse populations you will find in the country, New Mexico has much more to offer Amazon. As dean of engineering of the flagship university of the state, I can attest that the Albuquerque area can provide a company such as Amazon with just the kind of high-tech support it needs to sustain itself and thrive. Amazon is asking for “urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent,” and our community offers just that. In fact, Albuquerque – and New Mexico – are high-tech havens that few beyond the state are aware of.
For instance, the University of New Mexico’s School of Engineering is the largest engineering program in the state, which graduated nearly 600 students last year, including bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree recipients. With majors such as computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and research specializations in scalable computing, cybersecurity, robotics and bioinformatics, UNM is producing the kind of graduates – from coders to software developers to “good guy” hackers – that a top high-tech employer like Amazon relies upon.
UNM has a high number of technology-focused graduates, but it also produces the highest-quality students and research. UNM is the only university in New Mexico to receive a designation of R1: Doctoral Universities – Highest Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification for Institutions of Higher Education. This means that the research coming out of UNM is of the same caliber as any top-tier research institution you can name, from Georgia Tech to MIT. And it’s right here in New Mexico.
Of course, there is no doubt that Amazon would benefit greatly from being near to science and technology research hubs such as Sandia National Laboratories, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Los Alamos National Laboratory, which contribute significantly to our vibrant high-tech landscape. UNM works closely with these facilities and is a member of the Sandia Academic Alliance, along with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Texas at Austin, Purdue University and Georgia Tech. This alliance provides Albuquerque with a vital link to faculty, students and researchers at these top universities, collaborating with Sandia scientists and engineers on a variety of challenging initiatives.
Thanks to a strong entrepreneurial emphasis at UNM, these innovations do not just remain in the lab, but leap out into the surrounding community, creating high-tech jobs that provide vital support to companies. Earlier this year, in a report published by the National Academy of Investors and Intellectual Property Owners Association, UNM placed No. 33 among the Top Worldwide Universities that were granted U.S. utility patents in 2016. Through UNM’s technology-transfer office, STC.UNM, researchers in the School of Engineering produce many of these innovations. This proves that UNM is not just generating ideas in the lab, but those ideas are translating to economic development, which provides a boost to both surrounding businesses as well as the regional workforce.
UNM is also a key partner in another unique entrepreneurial endeavor, Lobo Rainforest, which is an exciting new facility in Downtown Albuquerque that brings together students, Innovate ABQ tenants, UNM’s Innovation Academy, AFRL, STC.UNM, Sandia, and other high-tech and entrepreneurial organizations. The $35 million facility’s purpose is to further spark the innovative spirit already alive in the city.
Although the competition is stiff, New Mexico should not count itself out of the running. New Mexicans have a natural inclination to be humble, which contributes to why more people in the country are not familiar with what we have to offer. The fact is, we are located in a high-tech hub of science and innovation, and it is time to let the rest of the country in on our big secret.