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AED commemorates its 60th anniversary

Gary Tonjes

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Economic Development celebrated its 60th anniversary and bid farewell to outgoing President Gary Tonjes during a virtual conference Thursday.

About 270 people participated in the online event, marking the final quarterly investors conference for Tonjes, who will retire July 31 after leading the organization for 25 years.

“Leaving AED will be difficult,” said Tonjes, who announced his retirement in January. “Representing AED and my hometown has been the honor of a lifetime.”

Still, Tonjes said he hopes to continue working with AED as a consultant on a contract or part-time basis to assist in select business recruitment projects, as well as retention and expansion efforts for existing companies.

AED launched a national search this month to replace Tonjes with assistance from the Pace Group, an executive search firm specializing in economic development, said AED Chair Eric Weinstein.

“We did a comprehensive needs assessment for the search,” Weinstein told conference participants. “We expect to have a list of candidates by the end of July, and selection of a new president by early fall.”

AED launched in 1960 to help build jobs in the greater metropolitan area by recruiting new businesses and by helping existing ones to succeed and grow.

“This year marks the 60th anniversary,” Weinstein said. “Since 1960, AED has helped recruit 240 companies to New Mexico, creating 35,000 new jobs.”

Despite the coronavirus, recruitment efforts continue, Tonjes said.

In May, Amazon announced it will open a new fulfillment center on the West Side, employing about 1,000 people in a 2.4 million-square-foot facility.

“That’s twice the size of the Coronado Mall,” Tonjes said. “And we’ve seen a recent surge in recruitment activity, with more interesting and exciting projects. Collectively, the top 10 prospects we’re now working on would represent more than 2,000 new jobs for the metro area.”

Edward Blandford, chief technology officer and co-founder of Kairos Power LLC, also spoke during the conference about his company’s progress in establishing a new engineering and testing center at the Mesa del Sol planned development community in south-central Albuquerque. Kairos, which is headquartered in California, announced plans last December to open the Albuquerque facility to test an advanced nuclear reactor technology that uses ceramic fuel combined with a low-pressure fluoride salt coolant to offer clean, renewable energy that would be competitive with natural gas.

The Albuquerque operation will be a non-nuclear testing facility for the technology being developed in California, Blandford said.

The company currently employs 143 people. It expects to hire 65 people in New Mexico for high-paying jobs that average about $100,000 annually.

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