Mayor touts the city’s response to coronavirus

Mayor Tim Keller

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Can Albuquerque’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic act as a marketing advantage for the city?

Mayor Tim Keller thinks so.

“On a relative basis, Albuquerque stands to be a huge winner,” Keller said during a webinar hosted Wednesday by Economic Forum of Albuquerque, where he spoke about how the pandemic has impacted the city’s unemployment rate, fiscal health and other issues.

While the pandemic has exacerbated existing problems like crime and homelessness, Keller said the city had noticeably lower rates of infection than cities like Denver, Austin and Phoenix as of late September, which could give it a marketing advantage over other western cities.

To that end, Keller said the city is looking at partnering with Visit Albuquerque and local advertising firms to promote the city’s virus response and low infection levels.

“We’ve struggled, again, losing so much population and talent … to all these other hipper, cool, trendier places,” Keller said. “That trend is reversing.”

As of Sept. 23, Bernalillo County had recorded 920 cases per 100,000 residents – significantly lower than the rates in metro Denver, Phoenix, Austin and other neighboring cities.

Bernalillo County had also tested more people per capita, with a lower test positivity rate, than those metro areas. Keller pointed to choices like converting Balloon Fiesta Park to a testing center early in the pandemic as keys to the city’s success.

Albuquerque has tried in the past to market factors like its low cost of living and number of sunny days, but Keller said it often struggles to differentiate itself.

In the city’s pandemic response, Keller said the city has an element that stands out from the crowd.

“There is no dispute we are a healthier place to live during a pandemic,” Keller said.

Keller noted that the numbers don’t account for a recent spike in cases in Bernalillo County and around the state. On Tuesday, Bernalillo County reported 138 new COVID-19 cases, driven in part by a spike at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center.

Despite the relatively low infection rate, Keller acknowledged that COVID-19 has hammered Albuquerque’s economy.

Keller said the city’s unemployment rate has risen by 5.2% since the beginning of the pandemic, which is comparable to cities like Tucson and Salt Lake City.

“We all know the economy is hurting,” Keller said. “We’re in a very difficult place.”

Because of that, he said Albuquerque has been creative, keeping most city departments open through the pandemic, and using the relative lack of cars on the streets to work through a backlog of road improvement projects. Keller estimated that the city has pumped about $150 million into the economy with those projects.

Additionally, Keller said the city’s fiscal situation, while worse than it was in March, is still stronger than most cities’. On a list of 41 cities, only Boston had a smaller estimated decline in revenue for fiscal year 2021 than Albuquerque did.

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