You hear it all the time here in Albuquerque. New Mexico can’t attract talent. We have an irreversible “brain drain” problem, with graduates moving out of state by the thousands. Get out before it’s too late. New Mexico is a terrible place to do business.
I don’t buy any of it. Because what I see, and what I am helping to cultivate, is quite the opposite. As CEO of a local tech company, RS21, my business is not only keeping New Mexicans here, but bringing them back home. Last week, we announced we’ll be creating more than 100 new high-paying jobs in Downtown within the next five years, and we can’t wait to entice our community to continue to call their hometown “home.”
And you know what? My story isn’t difficult to replicate.
A few years ago, while working at Sandia Labs, I had an idea for an innovative data science company. I floated it by some local business owners, and they were willing to invest. Before I knew it, we were off and running. The term for that is “tech transfer,” but it didn’t require any big, structured, formal program – it just happened organically and was pretty simple.
Through local networks, I was put in touch with some very impressive talent. Our first hire was Kameron Baumgardner, a whiz kid straight out of Albuquerque Public Schools and the University of New Mexico. Kameron is now our chief technology officer. Others quickly followed. I’ve found a lot of wonderfully talented people right here in Albuquerque or through local networks. After all, innovative tech talent pipelines like Deep Dive Coding Bootcamp, Cultivating Coders and Girl Develop It are churning out skilled developers in our back yard. RS21 is a company that does hard science – high-level, analytical work – and my New Mexico employees not only keep up, they’re leading the charge. In addition to our local talent, I take special pride in my employees who aren’t from New Mexico – people who decided to relocate here from places like Colorado and Chicago to join our company. We’re receiving an unprecedented number of applications from Burqueños who left the state to pursue education or careers elsewhere. They’re returning in droves from Oregon, Colorado, Texas and even Michigan. That’s not supposed to happen in a state like ours, right? But it does.
It’s time somebody lifted the needle from the broken record we’re so used to hearing, that has groomed us to say our state lacks the smarts, the sophistication and the potential to compete on a global scale. We often speak of the “Breaking Bad” caricatures of our weaknesses, but what about our strengths? We have thousands of Ph.D.s here – more per capita than most of the country. We’ve been a center of innovation, arts and science for decades. We are so used to keeping our heads down, we forget to carry them high for the things we should be very proud of. And I am proud.
That’s why last year, we committed as a company to sourcing all of our supplies locally. Not because we want to subsidize our economy, but because we truly believe in the quality of New Mexican products and services. Too often, Albuquerqueans assume we need to seek top-notch brands elsewhere. We believe otherwise, and we have yet to be proven wrong. For example, our marketing agency, McKee Wallwork + Co., has brought home a litany of national awards while staying true to its Albuquerque roots. Staff happy hours take place at Red Door Brewing just around the corner from our office, just one of dozens of brewers putting Albuquerque on the international beer map. Our coffee comes from Prosum Roasters, to the delight of all our out-of-state clients – the most snobbish included. ANM, a regional powerhouse based here in Albuquerque, skillfully handles our increasingly complex network and IT needs.
Albuquerque is an ecosystem, and it’s healthier than you might think. As a small business owner here, I’ve been overwhelmed by the support from the state, city and county. Our government and business leaders alike have come out of the woodwork to back our success, from State Economic Development Secretary Matt Geisel’s help navigating the LEDA process, to Mayor Tim Keller and his administration who have worked with us as constituents and sought opportunities to put our services to work solving health and crime issues to make our city a better, safer place to live.
So, to those mourning Albuquerque’s future, I say take heart. Success is attainable and closer than you think.