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City workforce efforts backed by pair of grants

Stephen Hamway

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A pair of grants will fund city projects to help rebuild Albuquerque’s workforce in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce will establish a federal Minority Business Development Center in Albuquerque. The center, which will be based at the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce beginning in December, will host workshops and provide business training for minority-owned businesses.

A separate $450,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will support efforts by the city to better coordinate existing workforce development offerings, and help connect unemployed and underemployed New Mexicans to growing job sectors.

While both planning efforts were underway before the COVID-19 pandemic began, they’ve taken on a greater importance after the pandemic has caused unemployment to spike, particularly in minority communities in New Mexico and across the country, according to Mark Zientek, Albuquerque’s workforce development liaison. According to a study from the University of New Hampshire published in August, job loss in Black and Latino communities was more than 50% higher than job loss in white communities from February to June.

“We want to target the population that has been hit hardest by this recession,” Zientek said.

Gabriela Marques, director of Albuquerque’s Minority Business Development Center, said the center will be open to businesses owned and operated by African Americans, Asian Americans, Hasidic Jews, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders. The center will focus on helping businesses in sectors the city has designated as a priority, including aerospace, bioscience and film. The goal, Marques said, is to help existing minority-owned businesses grow while helping to develop a critical mass that attracts other businesses to the region.

“Having an organization that’s really focused on supporting those minority-owned businesses can really support New Mexico and grow its economy,” Marques said.

Zientek said the $450,000 grant will be used on a variety of workforce development efforts over the next two years. The grant supports two employees: Zientek, and an early childhood education role that has yet to be filled.

Zientek said the primary focus for the funds will be to align the disparate workforce development and job training programs in Bernalillo County – which range from New Mexico Workforce Connection at the state level to Job Training Albuquerque at the city level – and coordinate with employers in fast-growing industries. The long-term goal, Zientek said, is to connect Bernalillo County residents, particularly minorities, who have lost work with job opportunities as efficiently as possible.

“A lot of these people aren’t accessing the services currently, so we need to go on the ground and in the communities to get people connected to jobs and services,” Zientek said.

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