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Keller unveils strategy for economic development

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Mayor Tim Keller on Friday unveiled his administration’s economic development strategy, which includes a local initiative similar to the state’s Job Training Incentive Program.

At an event held at the Glorieta Station development downtown, Keller said the development plan has six areas of focus:

Increment of One: supporting homegrown entrepreneurship and “game-changer” business already in the community.

Buy Local: directing more government purchases to local businesses.

Smart Recruitment: recruiting business in a strategic way.

International Business: capitalizing on “unique placement” along two interstates with an international airport and foreign trade zone.

Creative Economy & Film: emphasizing culture, cuisine, art music and film industries as key to economic development.

“This is not a silver bullet, not a single idea,” said Keller in remarks at the event. “It’s sort of the opposite of that … It’s about creating an inclusive and safe city for all of us.”

Placemaking: creating opportunities for people to gather and travel between such locations

City Economic Development Director Synthia Jaramillo said she was pleased to see small businesses attend the event, and said it was “validation that supporting local, homegrown businesses is the path forward.”

As part of the Increment of One objective – the name refers to the idea of helping every business find a way to add one more employee – Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said the city is pursuing an initiative modeled after the state’s JTIP program. That program reimburses new and expanding businesses for 50 percent to 75 percent of employee wages for up to six months.

“We’re envisioning it as something with a broader view than the state’s program,” Nair told the Journal. “We believe that social services are part of economic development, and so we’d like to support that (through the new program).”

Nair said funding for the initiative would likely come from existing money allocated to the Economic Development Department.

The city will also create a new outreach and advocacy office for businesses owned by women and people of color.

According to Brittany Ortiz, the city’s deputy director of equity and inclusion, there has been “serious inequity in Albuquerque’s economy that has grown over time.”

As for directing more government purchases to local businesses, Keller said city departments will be required to seek out local vendors, and that vendor registration will be in “every community center and library.”

Keller released a report as state auditor in 2017 that showed that 23 percent of New Mexico government contracts are awarded to out-of-state entities.

The city will also continue to market itself to businesses internationally, targeting Israel, Singapore, Taiwan, Germany and Japan, and is exploring how to bring a direct flight to Guadalajara, Mexico, to the Albuquerque International Sunport.

Recruitment outside of the state will focus on “businesses that align with our priorities,” according to materials supplied by the city.

Earlier this month, the mayor vetoed a $2.6 million incentive package for Topgolf over the objections of the City Council, stating that the deal “failed to meet our criteria for growing the local economy and creating good-paying jobs.”

And among the several film- and creative-focused initiatives discussed was the establishment of a code of conduct for film productions here.

Keller cited the Railyards in his description of the “Placemaking” initiative. At a city development commission meeting on Thursday, officials determined the contractor behind the project had failed to identify funding for and execute an environmental remediation process for the second consecutive year, thereby giving the city the option to terminate the contract. California-based Semitaur Constructs had been brought on to oversee development of the site.

The city purchased the Railyards in 2007 for about $8.5 million. The space is now being used for weekend markets and other events.