Michele Ostraat came back to Albuquerque, a city where she grew up and graduated high school from, to help Pajarito Powder in its expansion.
A former chief operating officer with the National Energy Technology Laboratory, Ostraat is Pajarito Powder’s new chief scientist — a job that entails developing new catalyst materials for the company’s role in hydrogen fuel cell production.
Ostraat, who has a doctorate in chemical engineering, joined the company this year with the help of a state incentive program that has helped pay for part of her salary.
The Job Training Incentive Program, known by its acronym JTIP, is administered by the state’s Economic Development Department. It incentivizes businesses to make new hires by paying a portion of the cost in wages for on-site or classroom training.
But the program’s goal is simple: to expand the state’s workforce in areas crucial to further economic development.
“A program like JTIP is going to, of course, provide economic value for the state,” Ostraat said. “It’s going to increase and diversify manufacturing capabilities. At the same time, it provides a company like Pajarito Powder to use its limited resources as efficiently as possible.”
A brief rundown
JTIP got its start more than 50 years ago in 1972 when it was created by the New Mexico Legislature. The program was originally known as the Industrial Development Training Program, its initial focus on “in-plant training” across New Mexico’s manufacturing scene.
JTIP reimburses roughly 50% to 75% of employee wages through the program for up to six months of training, Roper said. The program targets new hires with “economic-based businesses” operating in the state, particularly manufacturing businesses or non-retail service businesses that have more than 50% of their revenue coming from outside the borders of New Mexico.
The program reimburses these types of businesses to train new hires, either through on-the-job training or through custom training at public educational institutions in the state. New hires funded by JTIP need to have lived in New Mexico for at least a year at some point; an exception to that rule is if the job in question is high-paying by EDD’s scale — $40,000 in a rural location or $60,000 in an urban location, Roper said.
Once approved for job training incentives, businesses have about six months to find those new hires and up to six months to train them before receiving their full award.
Many companies over the years have used the program to grow or expand their operations. Since January, the program has awarded nearly $5 million to two dozen companies in the state.
“It’s one of the — in fact, it is — the greatest incentive that we have in New Mexico,” EDD Division Director Mark Roper said. “It’s unusual and unique in the fact that we reimburse for wages.”
Businesses JTIP has helped
Pajarito Powder has, to date, trained five employees through the program, claiming about $67,560 in funds to pay for portions of their salaries, according to EDD. The company of roughly 20 employees is rapidly expanding in the hydrogen adjacent arena, and is planning a move to a new facility at 5555 McLeod NE this year.
Ostraat is not the only recent hire supported by JTIP in the company’s expansion. Two recent graduates from the University of New Mexico, Ashley Healey and Natalie Patton, are also key hires that were made through JTIP. They joined Pajarito Powder last year.
Patton, a catalyst engineer, said her job at Pajarito Powder — and the training she received early on through JTIP’s contribution — opened up a whole new world of learning.
“(Working here) I have been able to get a wider variety of experience than I would have somewhere else,” Patton said.
Healey, a quality control engineer with Pajarito Powder, agrees.
“We’re so grateful for the JTIP program because it allowed us to have this opportunity of working at a smaller company, but at competitive salaries,” Healey said. “(We’ve) talked to our classmates who are working at Intel and are having a drastically different experience — not as much hands-on experience as us. So I think that’s one really valuable aspect of the program that we got to benefit from.”
More success stories
KiloNewton, based in Albuquerque’s Downtown, had a handful of employees when it first started in 2017. The company, which has a focus on utility solar consulting and financial risk assessment, was founded by John Williamson, the company’s chief executive officer.
Most of Williamson’s staff, which stands at about a dozen, have gone through JTIP. Since JTIP allows for on-site training, Williamson and his partner created and submitted to the state a training program for new hires specific to the company — one they still use and will continue to use so long as the company utilizes JTIP funds.
And the company, since first submitting an application for JTIP incentives in April 2019, has trained 11 people through the program — with claimed training funds standing at more than $158,000, according to EDD.
“Kind of my long-term goal for the company is to eventually have probably at least 20 to 30 employees,” Williamson said. “As long as we can, I think we will continue (using JTIP).”
Albuquerque-based 3D Glass Solutions, a company that produces advanced semiconducting chips, has also utilized JTIP funds over the past few years. According to the state, 3D Glass Solutions has trained 62 employees through JTIP, with total claimed funds for those hires standing at $896,162.
At 3D Glass Solutions, training varies depending upon the position, said Phil Ferguson, the business services manager for the company. All trainees do, however, get a basic overview of what the company does and how it operates.
“The training consists of a myriad of items, because it does depend on what position a person is being hired into,” Ferguson said. “An accounting clerk would not go through (training) a semiconductor technician would go through, or neither one of them would go through what an engineer would go through.”
He added: “(JTIP) has been an immense help in not just finding people, but it’s been a huge help in recruiting.”
A November 2022 Legislative Finance Committee report said JTIP and LEDA “sometimes create fewer quality jobs than projected.”
Roper said since COVID hit in 2020, JTIP has seen its “usage rate reduce pretty dramatically,” but added the state is working to help businesses find and retain talent so that they can receive money for training through the program.
Some of the issues in finding and retaining talent are not unique to JTIP funded businesses either. New Mexico has faced a stubbornly low labor force participation rate, which measures the number of working-age adults or those currently looking for work. In February, the labor force participation rate stood at 56.5% — one of the lowest in the country.
Data going back to fiscal year 2012 has shown a usage rate of roughly 58% in the program. That percentage measures the number of jobs that companies were able to fill and claim reimbursement for.
About 7,777 jobs were funded through JTIP over that period.
In FY 2021 and FY 2022, the program has disbursed about $11.8 million to businesses in the state for employee training. It’s a trend that will likely continue as more businesses continue to apply for — and receive — JTIP funds, Roper said.
“It’s been consistently supported, regardless of the administrations and legislatures (over the years),” Roper said. “It’s a quality program nationally recognized and I expect it to continue.”