Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
In May, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce announced that a familiar face would lead the organization as chairwoman: Pat Vincent-Collawn, who held the same position eight years ago.
The chairman-elect of the board is Indian Pueblo Cultural Center President and CEO Mike Canfield. The immediate past chairwoman is Meg Meister, a shareholder and transactions attorney at Modrall Sperling.
Vincent-Collawn has served as the president and CEO of the state’s largest utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico, since 2010, and the chairwoman of the company’s board since 2012. She is also chairwoman of the New Mexico Partnership, which contracts with the state to recruit businesses to New Mexico and perform other economic development work.
Chamber CEO Terri Cole said Vincent-Collawn’s deep ties to the New Mexico business community and her past experience with the chamber will be an asset to the organization over the coming year.
“We’ve seen that what makes Pat a great leader is her foresight and her ability to direct people toward success,” Cole said. “We need our most seasoned leaders right now to get the type of progress we wish to see.”
“It really feels like we’re making progress, though there’s still so much more to accomplish,” she said. “It felt like the right time to come back.”
The chamber is about a century old and has a roster of around 3,000 members. Tax filings show that in 2017, the chamber generated $1.4 million in gross receipts. It is registered as a lobbyist employer with the New Mexico secretary of state, and staff members are a frequent presence at the state legislature.
As of early July, the chamber was still amending its detailed legislative agenda for the coming year. Among its priorities last year: supporting “right-to-work” measures that prevent employees from being required to pay union fees, opposing the inclusion of minimum wage rates in the state Constitution and advocating for additional appropriations for the state’s Job Training Incentive Program and Local Economic Development Act fund.
Vincent-Collawn said it’s clear the organization’s “big issues” – the three categories that account for much of the chamber’s focus – will remain the same over the course of her tenure, which began July 1 and ends June 30, 2019: education, public safety and Downtown development.
She describes those focus areas as “important and intertwined”: tackling Albuquerque’s crime rates and creating an educational environment that will attract people here is inextricably tied to a thriving Downtown, she said.
“Great cities have vital downtowns, and ours has great bones,” said Vincent-Collawn. “We have so many beautiful historic buildings, Route 66 and the (Albuquerque Rapid Transit) project. There’s a lot to capitalize on.”
Developing Albuquerque’s Downtown, not to mention addressing the city’s significant education and public safety issues, won’t be easy, Vincent-Collawn said, but the task is made more manageable by what she says is agreement in the business community about what needs to change.
“There’s a feeling of focus and excitement right now,” she said. “People are realizing we can’t rely on government to solve all our problems for us.”
A central role
With many of their traditional networking functions supplanted by social media, many chambers of commerce nationally are struggling to market their relevance to businesses. Vincent-Collawn is adamant that the role of the chamber, particularly in the Albuquerque area, goes far beyond networking.
“The chamber is fundamental to our community,” she said. “It’s very central to making Albuquerque a place where businesses and families thrive.”
Still, she said that networking is one aspect of the chamber’s work and that networking-focused activities are indicative of its efforts to bring different industries together. It’s a step on the road to building consensus, according to Vincent-Collawn.
She cited the Facebook data center in Los Lunas as an example of what can happen when individuals from different sectors and political parties work together to accomplish a common goal.
“It’s the type of thing we can see more of if we put partisan politics aside,” she said.