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Imagine if NM had a yearly Flying 400

Honoring those among us who create economic base jobs – i.e. wealth – should be standard operating procedure.

I acknowledge with gratitude those who make the Flying 40 possible:

  •  Albuquerque Journal Business Outlook
  •  City of Albuquerque Economic Development
  •  Delta Dental

• Sandia Science & Technology Park Development Corp.


• NMA Ventures

• New Mexico Bank and Trust

• New Mexico MEP

• True Health New Mexico

Imagine if, instead of a Flying 40 event, New Mexico celebrated an annual Flying 400 event. Not only would our economy now be based on disruptive innovation, but everyone in New Mexico would enjoy a higher quality of living. That’s the dream that impels us to honor and celebrate the Flying 40.

Since the 1950s, New Mexico’s economic base has had but two legs: oil and gas, and the federal government. None of our efforts to create a third leg – to actually diversify our economy – have been successful.

Sherman McCorkle

Several initiatives have occurred over the past 70 years; I will not belabor those today. Suffice it to say, our search continues.

So how does a state create a diverse, broad-based economy? An economy fueled by economic base jobs?

The answer is not partisan, political or divisive. The answer given some years ago in the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” study that was commissioned by the U.S. House and Senate on a bipartisan basis (remember that?) was, in a word, innovate. And while innovation takes many forms, a series of economic studies conducted over the years has shown that between 50% and 85% of the growth in U.S. GDP is attributable to advancements in science and technology. This, despite the fact that less than 5% of the U.S. workforce is composed of scientists and engineers. This suggests that each 1% of the workforce engaged in those professions accounts for something approaching 15% of the growth in GDP. A truly remarkable multiplier.

We in New Mexico know, as was verified in the U.S. government “Gathering Storm” study, science and technology jobs are the envy of the market place. In the Sandia Science and Technology Park, the average salary is more than twice the average New Mexico salary.

New Mexico is perhaps the richest of America’s 50 states in science and technology assets, as evidenced by Air Force Research Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico State University, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Sandia National Laboratories, University of New Mexico, University of New Mexico Health Science Center, White Sands Missile Range, and Army Research Laboratory. New Mexico is also home to several Applied Technology centers created by the state Legislature.

To actually diversify our economy will require a long-term, multi-year, highly focused effort. Transforming science and technology into economic goods is not new; the intensification and complexity of innovation, however, is. Multiple reciprocal relationships among institutional sectors – private, public, and academic – will be required at different points in the knowledge capitalization process.

Said a different way, New Mexico must create, promote and mature the capitalization of the innovation and knowledge process, thereby creating economic base jobs. (An economic base job is one in which the value of the output is greater than the value of the input and the goods produced generate new revenue.)

This state-managed process will require a high level of collaboration between the various sources of innovative science: sustained, long-term, active collaboration.

Success will require state funding. (No surprise – no free lunch.) A state Innovation Fund should be created that would invest in the maturation of innovation. The state Innovation Fund would co-invest in/or with private sector investment funds. A new partnership between the legislative, administrative, and the New Mexico State Investment Council would activate the effort. The administration and the SIC could set aside $100 million as the Innovation Fund and the Legislature could appropriate the required funding to manage the process.

Is this realistic? Big structural change is difficult. Let’s not allow the past 70 years to dictate our future. No question New Mexico faces many challenges, but quality job creation is solvable. The reality is we only have to diversify our economy once, so let’s agree to begin work on the Flying 400.

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