Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the chamber supports a bond issue that would provide money for a homeless shelter. A location has not been proposed.
Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
After leading an ambitious effort to reshape the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center with $70 million in new development, Michael Canfield has set his sights on a new challenge: leading the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce as the first tribal member to serve as board chairman.
“We have a lot of (tribal) community members here, in business and otherwise, and it’s nice to have that perspective,” Canfield told the Journal.
Since Canfield took over as board chair on July 1, the chamber has moved into a new Downtown office, revamped its logo and website and thrown support behind a bond measure that would, among other issues, establish a homeless shelter, a move that the chamber claims will help address persistent crime and homelessness issues.
“It’s not the be all, end all, but we’ve got to start somewhere,” Canfield said.
A different perspective
Canfield is a member of Laguna Pueblo, and previously headed the Laguna Industries manufacturing operation. In his role as president and CEO of Indian Pueblos Marketing, the development wing of the of the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, Canfield has brought in new commercial development on the 80-acre campus. A 92-room Marriott-brand hotel is rising on the campus, and the firm has plans to break ground new retail and office buildings in the next 12 months.
As the first tribal member to chair the board, Canfield said he wanted to give voice to a perspective that hasn’t always been well-represented in Albuquerque’s business community.
In 2017, the 19 Pueblos brought $608.2 million into New Mexico, according to a study conducted by the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
“So they need to have a voice too,” Canfield said. “It’s important for us as tribal members to be involved where we can.”
In order to help Albuquerque’s business community thrive, Canfield said his focus has been not just working with individual businesses, but working with chamber staff on city-wide issues. Where many chambers of commerce focus narrowly on representing the interests of the businesses they represent, Terri Cole, president and CEO, said the Albuquerque chamber looks at its mission a bit more broadly, focusing on systemic issues that affect the city’s business community.
Cole said the chamber has identified three key issues – known as “bold issue groups” or BIGs – facing the city of Albuquerque: public safety, Downtown transformation and education reform. She said the chamber has partnered with a wide variety of groups to make headway on each of those issues.
“We focus on making the community a better place,” Cole said. “So being community-minded is a priority.”
Additionally, Canfield said the focus on larger issues appeals to him because it helps the chamber stay useful and relevant in the Internet Age. He said being part of an organization that’s willing to get involved in larger issues help enlist businesspeople who might otherwise not know how to get involved.
“We need our businesspeople to be engaged,” Canfield said. “We need that voice at the table.”
For example, revitalizing downtown is key to Albuquerque’s growth because it makes the city safe for businesses that operate in the downtown core, and more appealing to those who may want to in the future, said Norm Becker, chair of the Downtown transformation item for the chamber.
“There is no great city of any size that doesn’t have a great downtown,” Becker said.
Becker said the chamber began looking seriously at revitalizing the area a couple of years ago. The chamber quickly learned that the top concerns for business owners were crime and homelessness, which Becker said made it difficult to draw visitors to the area.
For that reason, the chamber has come out in support of the city’s proposal to add a centralized, 24/7 shelter through $14 million in general obligation bonds. Becker said the shelter represents a humane approach to getting people experiencing homeless to a safe, central location, without the barriers to entry that they may face at other city facilities. The bond will appear on ballots for Albuquerque voters during the November election.
Becker said the move to a new Downtown office played into that focus on the neighborhood. The chamber has maintained a headquarters on Gold Avenue SW for nearly three decades. But when an opportunity to move to a location with more usable space at 400 Tijeras Avenue NW, Cole said the chamber didn’t hesitate.
“We ended up with an opportunity that was put in front of us, and it was terrific,” she said.
While acknowledging that the move to the other side of Downtown was a challenge, Cole said having a ground-floor office near Civic Plaza gives the chamber additional visibility. Moreover, Becker added that staying downtown and moving to a more central location was an indication to businesses that the chamber is invested in the area for years to come.
“It’s a sign of our dedication to our city,” Becker said.
Cole said the chamber completed the move on August 24, meeting its stated objective by moving before its annual luncheon in September.
Going forward, Canfield said he also wants to work on addressing Albuquerque’s persistent negative image. While he acknowledged that Albuquerque still has significant problems, he said he’d like to work on positive messaging, broadcasting some of the elements that make Albuquerque unique, rather than harping on negative aspects of the city.
“We’re not Denver, we’re not Phoenix, we’re not Dallas, and I don’t think we ever want to be,” Canfield said.