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New Mexico officials tout strategy as economic springboard

A new strategy to diversify New Mexico’s economy will look at where the state can build the most momentum, including industries such as film and television, aerospace, cybersecurity, biosciences, global trade and green energy.

ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico’s top economic development officials said Wednesday they are ready to put into action a 20-year strategy for diversifying the economy, saying the state has no time to waste if it wants to make up lost ground from the Great Recession and the coronavirus pandemic.

They announced that the federal government has awarded the state a $1 million grant for the effort. That comes after an initial $1.5 million in federal recovery funding that New Mexico used to develop the strategy and to begin hiring economic relief coordinators to help rural communities and small businesses.

The latest grant will be used to implement the strategy, which state Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes outlined for a group of business leaders with the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce.

Keyes told the group that the pandemic has had an effect on everyone, resulting in lost lives, connections and opportunities. She said her family had its own challenges during the state’s lockdown. She talked about planning grocery runs and hoarding water and other supplies and about the low-wage workers who were essential for keeping businesses open.

“The whole picture of the economy has been a very real reminder that as a society we’re intertwined socially and economically, and we heard this over and over again as we were doing this strategic plan,” Keyes said. “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The gap is growing.”

State officials noted New Mexico’s wages and job growth have not been keeping pace with neighboring states, that investment funds are lacking and that higher education offerings are not aligned with what’s needed in the job market. They said the problems grew after the Great Recession and that the pandemic made things worse.

Keyes said the new strategy looks at where New Mexico can build the most momentum. She highlighted several industries, including aerospace, cybersecurity, biosciences, film and television, global trade and green energy.

Part of the work will include improving access to capital and recovery resources for businesses and communities. The plan also calls for assessing the availability of incubator and start-up resources and creating an online dashboard to track their impact.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also recently signed an executive order to streamline regulations to boost New Mexico’s competitiveness, a request made by the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce after it conducted a study last year that looked at barriers to business.

“We don’t want this plan to sit on a shelf. We need to take action now and we feel like we’re doing that,” Keyes said, before making a plea to business owners. “Please join us. This is an all-together thing. We’re not going to be able to do it alone.”

She said the equation will have to include higher wages, more schedule flexibility for workers and more options for attracting employees.

The state Economic Development Department also plans to ask lawmakers during the next legislative session for more funding to market the state, for job training and for local economic development projects.

Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said collecting data will help to hold the state accountable as it implements the strategy. He pointed to a number of metrics included in the plan, from tracking unemployment and poverty in rural New Mexico to the percentage of college graduates employed in the state six months after graduation.