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Intel assurances of commitment to Rio Rancho is good news

Intel’s assurance that its Rio Rancho plant remains critical to the company’s global future was highly welcome news last week.

But there’s still this sobering fact: The Rio Rancho site has been passed over three times for Intel’s next generation technology. Being three cycles behind the curve, New Mexico site manager Kirby Jefferson conceded in a speech to business leaders at the Albuquerque Economic Forum, makes it more difficult to compete for the next-generation chips.

Yet, Jefferson was highly upbeat about the Rio Rancho plant’s role in the years ahead, telling the group that it continues to produce chip technology that is integral to almost every product the company makes — so much so that it is expected to operate at maximum capacity for at least the next two years.

“Intel is committed to this community,” he said. “The thinking all the way up the chain is to keep this operation going.”

To be sure, there’s been plenty of speculation about Intel’s future in Rio Rancho since the company announced its 400-position reduction last year amid some significant market changes in the computer industry. There’s no reason to doubt Jefferson’s sincerity or optimism about Intel’s future.

Community leaders, though, shouldn’t sit back and wait to see what unfolds, but rather, renew the city’s commitment to ensure that Intel stays here.

Perhaps the county-led regional economic development strategy and formation of a new economic development organization, or the emerging Rio Rancho Roundtable can provide the impetus to generate some fresh thinking about how to keep Rio Rancho competitive with other communities seeking future Intel investments.

It makes one shudder to think of Rio Rancho without Intel. The two have literally grown up together — Intel started here in 1980, not too many years after its founding, and predated by a few months the seating of the first municipal government in the newly incorporated city of Rio Rancho.

The chip manufacturer not only employs just under 2,800 people directly, but also provides hundreds of other jobs through contractors and other service providers that do business with Intel. It has been a huge presence in the community in many other ways, from generously contributing to local nonprofit organizations to making multi-million contributions to projects such as the expansion of NM 528 and the building of Rio Rancho’s first high school some years back, to name just a few.

The community needs to assure Intel that it remains a most welcome, vital part of Rio Rancho.