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Our view: Planning for economic future is no easy task

The recent report by economic development consultant Mark Lautman offers a stark prediction for Rio Rancho and Sandoval County: Create at least 18,000 jobs in the next decade or face an even worse economy than the one we’ve experienced the past few years.

It’s a very tall order, to say the least. And coming on the heels of the 400-position cutback announced at Intel, reports in drop-offs in housing and the general slowdown in new business development on the local front, it’s not exactly one to be overly optimistic about.

It has never been an easy proposition for Rio Rancho and the county — or for the state of New Mexico as a whole — to be able to consistently attract new business and industry that create significant job opportunities.

There have been local successes, of course, and Intel is easily the most recognizable. But Intel, even with a major expansion, won’t make a big dent in the 18,000 positions envisioned by Lautman.

Lautman, a former vice president of economic development for AMREP Southwest, knows the economic landscape in southern Sandoval County as well as anyone. He cites health care as the best, and, in his words, possibly the only, major sector with a chance to make a short-term difference in the county’s economy.

His observations are well-taken.

Over the past two years, two major medical centers have opened in Rio Rancho. Combined with the expected effects of the federal Affordable Care Act to expand health insurance to millions, and the presence of CNM and UNM West to train future workers for an industry that doesn’t have enough workers or places to meet the demand, the synergy could be in place for Rio Rancho “to be the center of development for that capacity,” Lautman suggests.

Mayor Tom Swisstack, in his remarks during last week’s “state of the city” discussion at the quarterly meeting of the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce, spoke of the need establish a “brand” for the City of Vision.

Perhaps the opportunity is at hand to establish one.

That said, the obvious question is, “How?”

We don’t disagree with Lautman’s observation that it will take local governments and private organizations working together to increase funding for economic development efforts. That in itself — working together, in particular — has been a challenge, at least in Rio Rancho.

It’s no secret the city and the Rio Rancho Economic Development Corporation, which has a record of business recruitment success, haven’t seen eye to eye. In fact, the governing body in July put off renewing the EDC contract to see if it could be reworked to resolve the apparent conflict between entities. As of today, there is no written agreement of any sort between the city and EDC.

Difficult as it likely will be for some, our city leaders need to reach a consensus on where they want the city to go, and, with our city’s business leaders, develop a strategy on how to get there. It should also frame one of the basic issues for the coming municipal election.

What is Rio Rancho’s “brand” going to be?