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Gas Co.’s parent firm pumps $5M into NM economic development


This rendering shows plans for construction at the planned Innovate ABQ research and development hub at Central and Broadway (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Some of New Mexico’s budding entrepreneurship and business innovation programs got a $1 million boost recently from Emera Inc., the Canadian firm that acquired New Mexico Gas Co.

Emera donated between $100,000 and $500,000 to four entrepreneurial programs in recent weeks, including $500,000 for the city of Albuquerque’s Innovation Central initiative, $200,000 for the University of New Mexico’s Innovation Academy, $200,000 for New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center and $100,000 for the New Mexico Technology Research Collaborative.

In addition, the company gave $500,000 in smaller grants to 13 other economic development organizations statewide.

The grants come from a new $5 million fund Emera set up for economic development around New Mexico over the next five years. That’s one of a variety of items to which Emera agreed as part of the state Public Regulation Commission’s approval of a merger with TECO Energy, the previous owner of New Mexico Gas, said utility president Ryan Shell.

“We’re excited about supporting innovation and business growth in New Mexico,” Shell said. “We hope to make a positive difference in all areas of the state.”

The PRC agreement includes broad benefits, such as a freeze on rates until 2018 and establishment of a new utility board with majority representation from local business and community groups, said vice president of regulatory affairs Tom Domme.

It also stipulates three other economic development initiatives: $2.4 million in charitable donations, $5 million to construct a new pipeline for natural gas exports to Mexico and $10 million to help unserved and underserved communities gain more access to natural gas.

All the economic development funds come from shareholder money.

“It will never go into rates,” Domme said. “It’s Emera’s contribution to New Mexico.”

The company wants a significant portion of its economic development grants to benefit entrepreneurial innovation. It will make another $1 million in donations next fall.

“We’ll look at how current grant recipients spent their money and either give more to them or to other groups,” Domme said.

NMSU’s grant will allow the Arrowhead Center to fund new business accelerator programs, plus provide seed money for startups, said center director Kathryn Hansen.

The Innovation Academy will fund more events, workshops and possibly student scholarships for short-term summer studies abroad, said Academy director Robert DelCampo.

Albuquerque will channel Emera funds to Central New Mexico Community College’s new Fuse Makerspace at the STEMulus Center Downtown.

“This (Emera) partnership, and ones like it, are instrumental in creating a thriving downtown where collisions can happen between the public, private, nonprofit and educational sectors,” said Mayor Richard Berry.