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Economic development work continues – even in 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Even a once-in-a-century pandemic couldn’t stop economic development efforts in Albuquerque and New Mexico.

Despite the challenges of 2020, which included record-setting unemployment, state and local economic development organizations welcomed new leadership, facilitated deals with large companies and launched advertising designed to encourage big-city workers to relocate to New Mexico. Here are a few economic development highlights from a dark year.

At the state level, Alicia Keyes, New Mexico’s economic development Cabinet secretary, said she has been surprised by how active the office remained even after the COVID-19 pandemic reached the state in March, as businesses re-evaluated offices in large, crowded cities.

“We have been busier than ever, in terms of people wanting to move out of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York,” Keyes told the Journal.

Alicia Keyes

In 2020, the state provided job-training reimbursement to 75 companies through its Job

Training Incentive Program, which will support 2,380 jobs. Additionally, the state’s Economic Development Department invested in 18 companies to support around 2,500 jobs over the next several years through the Local Economic Development Act, which provides state funding to help attract relocating or expanding companies that meet certain criteria.

While projects like Netflix’s announced expansion attracted a significant share of attention, Keyes said she was excited about several smaller projects that will help create jobs in rural communities.

One example was McKinley Paper upgrading its equipment to continue operating in Prewitt, New Mexico, after the nearby Escalante Generating Station closed. Earlier this year, EDD pledged an investment of $5 million in the company, which will go toward construction of a new boiler and associated equipment, as well as inbound water systems and wastewater treatment. This, in turn, is expected to help the company – which previously relied on the generating station for steam power – stay in business for at least the next decade and retain 125 jobs in northwest New Mexico.

Another example Keyes pointed to was Ascent Aviation Services choosing to expand to the Roswell Air Center and hire 360 employees, as lower-profile deals that helped smaller communities.

“That gets me out of bed in the morning, to be able to bring 360 to more of a rural area,” Keyes said.

Overall, 29% of JTIP funding went to rural communities, from Clovis to Deming.

Still, the state’s largest city was the recipient of several high-profile deals, including the aforementioned Netflix expansion, which makes Albuquerque the streaming giant’s largest North American production hub.

Synthia Jaramillo

Synthia Jaramillo, Albuquerque’s director of economic development, said the deal with the streaming giant took about six months to complete and required a variety of state and local organizations to work together.

To help fund the expansion, New Mexico will provide up to $17 million in funding through the Local Economic Development Act, and the city will contribute $7 million, according to earlier reports.

Despite the hefty price tag, Jaramillo said she believes the expansion, which includes an additional $1 billion in production spend and $150 million in capital expenditures from the streaming giant, will pay dividends for the city. She said the expansion is slated to create around 1,000 production-based jobs, along with nearly 1,500 construction jobs, and the impact will carry over into other industries.

“It’s truly a game-changer for our small-business community,” Jaramillo said.

Separately, the city approved a site plan that would allow Group Orion, a Washington D.C.-based aerospace company, to develop a campus on a large parcel of land near the Sunport. Jaramillo said the company still needs to secure approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, but was optimistic the deal would reach the finish line.

“It’s looking incredibly positive,” Jaramillo said.

On the back of those two projects, Jaramillo said the city launched a marketing campaign in three Western cities in December. The multi-platform campaign will primarily target remote workers and former New Mexico residents in Houston, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, promoting Albuquerque’s abundant sunshine, short commutes and access to outdoor recreation.

Jaramillo said the campaign builds on trends toward remote work, while dovetailing with the city’s larger efforts to attract talent in five main sectors: Film & digital media, smart-city technology, space technology, directed energy and bioscience.

“We’re telling stories that position Albuquerque as the Southwest premier mid-sized city,” Jaramillo said.

The year also brought the retirement of Gary Tonjes, the longtime leader of Albuquerque Economic Development, the city’s private, nonprofit economic development organization. In October, AED named Danielle Casey as its new president.

Danielle Casey

Casey, who previously worked for the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, said the pandemic has forced economic development folks to adapt in unpredictable ways in Albuquerque and across the country.

While no one knows what 2021 will bring, Casey said she believes Albuquerque’s quality of life, diversity and outdoor opportunities give it a chance to be competitive as the pandemic wanes.

“Main streets and urban cores will never be the same,” Casey said. “The hard part is predicting what that new normal is going to be like and get ahead of the curve.”

Stephen Hamway covers economic development, health care and tourism for the Journal. He can be reached at shamway@abqjournal.com.

 

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