ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Make sure Albuquerque is a welcoming place for existing businesses, push forward on the city’s innovation efforts and offer more training to develop a skilled workforce.
Those are all on the to-do list for Albuquerque’s mayoral candidates, Tim Keller and Dan Lewis.
Both are presenting ways to jump-start the city’s economy, which continues anemic progress in adding jobs: 4,700 new jobs, or a 1.2 percent increase, in September, compared with the year before.
The city’s unemployment rate in September, the most recent month for which figures are available, was at 5.8 percent, the same as in August and down from 6.2 percent last year.
Keller, a Democrat, and Lewis, a Republican, are facing off in a Nov. 14 runoff, with the winner taking office on Dec. 1. In the Oct. 3 election, Keller got 39 percent of the vote while Lewis won nearly 23 percent. A runoff is needed because no candidate received the required 50 percent.
Keller wants to “refocus” the city’s economic development department by helping companies that are already here rather than trying to recruit new firms.
He said other agencies, such as Albuquerque Economic Development, are already doing recruiting and he would support those efforts, but he wants city government to focus on “companies that are already here and benefiting our kids.”
Lewis said one way to make sure the city is a welcoming place for local business is to create a “much better environment for business owners.” He has vowed to cut 25 percent of all city regulations and “red tape” that affect small businesses.
“I can’t wait to get into all of the regulations and all of the hoops small businesses have to jump through to be able to create jobs,” Lewis said. “I don’t believe in mandating regulations from city government onto small businesses.”
Keller said small businesses need capital and customers. The city can help by setting up a “strategic investment fund” that could provide capital for business expansion, and it can boost local operations by hiring more Albuquerque firms for city purchases and services.
As for Innovate ABQ and efforts to lure new business, Lewis said he wants to “double down” on attracting innovative companies by increasing the number of accelerators and incubators to cover “every area of job growth,” including “brick-and-mortar startups, the creative economy, restaurants and health and bio sciences.”
Keller also wants to make sure accelerators and entrepreneur spaces are available on the city’s West Side and says he would partner with Central New Mexico Community College and the University of New Mexico, both of which have West Side campuses.
Both candidates sounded cautionary notes about providing extensive tax and other benefits to such high-profile companies as Amazon, which has caused a feeding frenzy among cities trying to land its planned second headquarters.
Lewis said any such deals must involve clawbacks so “the city is made whole” if a company fails to live up to its promises. Keller said such efforts can be too expensive and “instead of focusing on hunting unicorns, we should really be investing in companies that are already here and benefiting our kids.”
On workforce training, the two candidates said they would work with CNM and UNM to ensure there are training programs for specialized workers.
Keller’s goal is to “upskill” 10,000 Albuquerque residents to fill needed jobs, and he wants to build on efforts to recruit summer and after-school programs to do some of the training.
Lewis said one way to keep young residents interested in staying in Albuquerque is to give them more chances to serve on city boards and commissions so they can be involved in decision-making.
And each candidate has ideas about making the city more appealing – to businesses and otherwise.
Keller has suggested revitalizing Downtown with the addition of a performing arts center, while Lewis says he likes the idea of hosting another professional sports team – soccer, perhaps.