Building a strong regional economy takes time, with multiple entities coming together in ways that fight silos and duplication, and focus on solving systemic issues.
Danielle Casey, who has led the organization for nearly two years, urged leaders from industry, educational institutions and government agencies to work together to build the region’s economy. during a presentation at the Albuquerque Economic Forum on Wednesday at the Embassy Suites.
“It has to be all of us,” Casey said. “We have to work with the state; we need to work with local governments in a very meaningful way. … We’ve worked with UNM and CNM very, very directly doing some extremely creative things. I believe they have an incredible ability to really transform and impact our economy.
NM by comparison
Despite AREA’s success in attracting growing businesses to the area, there is still a long way to go, Casey said. New Mexico tends to follow other markets of similar size.
The region’s employment recovery over the past two years has been around 1.8% compared to positive trends in areas such as Dallas, Texas, and Boise, Idaho, – both of which had levels job recovery rates above 6%, according to Casey.
This may be partly due to the relatively low population growth in the Albuquerque area. The area saw an increase of about 17,000 people from 2016 to 2022. Meanwhile, places like Boise grew by almost 100,000 people over the same period and Phoenix grew by almost half a million.
Add to that the state’s unemployment rate and labor force participation rate — which measures how many working-age people are actively working or looking for work — and New Mexico is moving in all the wrong directions. , Casey said.
Casey said that for the region to have a better idea of how to increase these numbers, comparisons should be made with other markets.
“We have to stop measuring ourselves against ourselves,” she said. “We have to keep going and be very intentional to compete against our competitors.”
Casey shared some numbers that explain the organization’s success in making the Albuquerque area — which covers Sandoval, Valencia, Torrance and Bernalillo counties — a great place for potential businesses.
Those numbers include a handful of project announcements this year that are contributing 1,845 jobs and $2.6 billion in capital investment to the region, Casey said, as well as about $1.6 billion in new and recurring economic activity each year.
One such project comes from an investment group that includes Louisville-based Manna Capital Partners and Colorado-based Ball Corp. for an aluminum fabrication plant that is expected to create hundreds of jobs in Los Lunas and have an economic impact of $3.4 billion over the next decade. Other projects AREA has been involved with over the past year include the expansion of Alstate Steel, Universal Hydrogen, BlueHalo and bioscience manufacturer Curia.
Forty-two companies have visited the area in the past year, and most of these companies – 86% of them to be exact – have expressed a need for expansion in terms of employees and area.
About 65% of potential companies in AREA are looking to grow on the manufacturing side.
But Casey called it a challenge for the region, with the lack of space available for manufacturers. She said the organization was working on this issue with partners. However, she called these types of jobs for New Mexicans positive.
“It’s going to mean a better life and a better quality of work for people in the community,” she said.
How is this resolved?
Casey said the private and public sectors must work in tandem to create an inviting and sustainable environment for businesses to grow in the region.
In the case of AREA, formerly known as Albuquerque Economic Development, the organization has taken steps to create a more holistic view of the region’s needs.
The organization has created advisory councils that span the public and private sectors, with specific emphasis on areas that include leaders from the technology and innovation and economic development industries in contact with the public.
The region needs to build a skilled workforce and adequately fund economic development to maintain the region’s trend, Casey said. And, to be more comprehensive, the entities need to come together to create a more robust site-ready program for businesses looking to expand into the region.
“If we don’t all work together and think about how we’re going to move the region forward, then we’re missing the boat in a very, very big way,” Casey said. “…We’re going to be unabashedly honest about our current economic rankings, and we’re not going to accept it.”