ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After two years in Southern California, Alex Horton returned to where he grew up, Albuquerque’s International District, only to find the neighborhood different from what he remembered.
Horton saw an area that felt less safe and was losing longtime residents, so he decided he wanted to do something about it.
He bought a building near Central and Wyoming NE that will house the neighborhood’s first economic development center, aimed at giving small businesses in the disadvantaged neighborhood the tools they need to succeed.
“I’m just so excited, because I can just see the commerce and activity,” Horton said.
Albuquerque’s International District, which runs along East Central from roughly San Mateo to Wyoming, has had many problems in recent years. The Albuquerque Police Department’s Southeast zone, which includes much of the International District, contained 6.7% of the city’s population but was the site of 27% of the murders that took place from 2014 to 2016, according to the Journal’s archives.
Despite the challenges, Horton said, the area is home to a surprisingly wide variety of businesses, from retail to manufacturing to technology. He said he wanted to establish a center that could foster collaboration among entrepreneurs, in a safe, affordable and easily accessible location.
Horton, a graduate of Highland High School, said the project grew out of his experience as a consultant for a similar center in the South Valley, and he said he was optimistic that the model could be adapted to his own neighborhood.
“We wanted it to be a hub for entrepreneurs, a hub for business, and a hub for commerce in the area,” Horton said.
To get the International District Economic Development Center off the ground, Horton has received help from a variety of sources, ranging from other economic development entities to city hall. During a ribbon-cutting ceremony this month, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller called the center an important step toward reinvesting in the International District.
“This is going to be a giant signal that we are not, in any way, leaving any part of our city behind,” Keller said during the event.
Horton said the team has sunk more than $70,000 into renovating the 5,000-square-foot building. The dominant feature of the downstairs section is a co-working space with a capacity for up to 70 people. Space in the co-working center costs $50 per month, with subsidies available to disadvantaged businesses. Horton said he hopes the space could be open by the start of 2020.
The economic development center will host an incubator program, which will teach entrepreneurs a wide range of skills. Horton said the program will teach introductory skills like developing a business plan and reading a budget, as well as connecting business owners with experts in their fields to help customize the program. The incubator program begins at $100 and is aimed at businesses bracketed by Lomas and Gibson to the north and south, and San Mateo and Wyoming to the east and west.
If the concept takes off, Horton said, he is optimistic that the center can create a pipeline of development that can bring new jobs to the area and alleviate some of the problems facing the neighborhood.
“We want individuals to know that, if we all do our piece together, we can lift up the community,” Horton said.