As a community, we need to decide what kind of City we want to become and identify our needs; otherwise we are destined to continue our economic death spiral.
As a community, we can do things to turn our City economy around, diversify our economy and reduce our reliance on federal government funding.
A community effort to identify our needs has actually been done in the past and should be undertaken again.
It is a community effort that should be lead by the Mayor, the Albuquerque City Council, the Bernalillo County Commission, the Albuquerque business community, civic organizations and include charitable organizations.
For the past seven years, the City of Albuquerque’s Economic Development Department has not attracted or convinced a single major corporation to come or relocate to Albuquerque.
It has been reported that Albuquerque lost 14,900 jobs during the last 10 years, which is roughly 4 jobs a day.
According to one Brookings Institution report, the Albuquerque metro area’s economy was so bad between 2009 and 2014 that it almost fell off the charts of three measures of economic health.
Of the largest 100 metro areas in the U.S., Albuquerque ranked 100th, 99th and 83rd in the three areas measured by the Brookings Institute: Growth, Prosperity and Inclusion.
According to the same Bookings Institute report, economically hobbled cities like Jackson, Miss., and Rochester, New York, fared better than Albuquerque. Albuquerque ranked 99th for economic growth, 83rd for prosperity and 100th for inclusion, which measures how an area’s poorest residents are doing in the economy.
According to US Census reports, more people are leaving the State than moving in, and our youth are leaving Albuquerque in droves to seek employment with a future elsewhere even after they get their college education at our universities.
QUALITY OF LIFE LEGISLATION APPROACH
In 1987, when I was a City Councilor, the Albuquerque City Council engaged in a process of public hearings to determine and identify what type of facilities and projects were needed for a growing city that would enhance our quality of life and make Albuquerque an attractive City to raise a family.
In 1987, the City Council held extensive public hearings for months, throughout the City, to get public input on what should be built.
The business community, the private sector and many civic organizations got behind the effort and participated.
By a unanimous, bipartisan vote, the Albuquerque City Council enacted the “Quality of Life” legislation that resulted in the construction of the Albuquerque Aquarium, the Albuquerque Children’s Science Museum, the Botanical Gardens and the Balloon Museum.
Originally, a performing arts center was identified as a needed facility with funding included, but the funding was later struck down by a voter initiative.
Years later, the private sector, without any government funding but with reliance on private fund raising and contributions, built the Hispano Cultural Center which has a performing arts venue that fills the void for a performing arts center.
The “Quality of Life” legislation funded the acquisition of critical open space with open land acquisitions completing the final phase of what forms the backbone of our “urban parks”.
The “Quality of Life” legislation included a ten year quarter cent sales tax with a sunset clause, and the tax has long since expired, but the facilities were designed and built.
The “Quality of Life” tax was not put on the ballot for a public vote thanks in large part to strong community support and the extensive public hearings held by the Albuquerque City Council and the forging of a public consensus of what needed to be built.
Money was also approved by the 1987 City Council to fund major improvements to our zoo, a major remodeling and expansion of our Convention Center, and the largest expansion and remodeling of the Albuquerque Sunport in Albuquerque’s history.
Looking back on it, what would Albuquerque be today without all of the “quality of life” facilities, our expanded open space and urban parks system, the expanded convention center, improvements to the zoo and the expanded airport?
Each “Quality of Life” facility contributes to our City character and helps make our City an attractive place to live, work, and raise a family.
Without the “Quality of Life” projects you cannot help but wonder if Albuquerque would be nothing more than just another dying, dusty little southwestern town.
TRY INVESTING IN OURSELVES
The same approach used in 1987 for the Quality of Life legislation can be done today to develop a successful economic development program, with or without an “economic development” tax voted upon by taxpayers.
There have been major cities where voters have agreed to tax and invest in themselves to repair or rebuild their communities and facilities.
Albuquerque and Bernalillo County voters did it to an extent in 2014 with the enactment of the Mental and Behavioral Health tax and again in 2015 with the BioPark gross receipts tax voter initiative.
In 2014, Albuquerque and Bernalillo County voters overwhelmingly voted to impose a one-eighth percent gross receipts tax to improve access to mental and behavioral health care services in the county.
The one-eighth percent gross receipts tax voted by taxpayers for mental health is to be used for the purpose of providing more mental and behavioral health services for adults and children in the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County area, and to provide a safety net system that develops mental health care not otherwise funded in New Mexico.
During the 2015 municipal election, Albuquerque voters wisely approved with an overwhelming majority the voter petition drive initiative to increase the gross receipts tax that will raise $255 million dollars over 15 years for the BioPark.
The BioPark, with its zoo, aquarium and botanical gardens, is the number one tourist attraction in the State of New Mexico.
With the enactment of both the mental and behavioral health tax and the BioPark tax, voters said they wanted to invest in their community, increase services and repair and preserve facilities that help make Albuquerque a great and unique City.
Albuquerque’s taxpayers must be convinced by its political and business leaders of the importance of investing in major public facilities, construction projects and infra structure and for economic development.
Albuquerque can turn our economy around with an aggressive and massive investment to reinvent itself like has been done by great American cities such as Denver, El Paso, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma City, Columbus, and other cities that have invested billions in their communities.
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE LEADERSHIP REQUIRED
Albuquerque must redefine its identity, take bold and aggressive, calculated risks to attract and create high-paying jobs to keep our youth and talent from leaving.
Albuquerque is one of the few major metropolitan cities its size that does not have a City operated entertainment venue or facility, as was the Civic Auditorium, but relies extensively on higher education facilities such as the UNM’s “The Pit” and Popejoy Hall.
Improving our schools and vocational systems, reducing dropout rates, are critical to diversifying Albuquerque’s economy.
Albuquerque as a community needs to voice our demands loud and clear to our New Mexico House and Senate members that they need to be far more aggressive in improving and funding our education system and fund early childhood care and intervention programs and mental health care programs and stop wasting time on “all crime, all the time” agendas increasing criminal penalties, but rather getting to and solving the root cause of crime: poverty, poor education system, high unemployment, drug addiction, to mention just a few root causes of crime.
City economic development efforts need to be better coordinated with our vocational institutions to identify new industries that can be attracted to Albuquerque and insure Albuquerque has the trained work force to accommodate any new industry.
Albuquerque can and must expand and find better ways to use financial incentives for economic development such as tax increment districts (TIDS), industrial revenue bonds, and even fund economic development investment programs such as initial start up funding with claw back provisions.
Albuquerque needs to pursue with a vengeance real growth industries like heath care, transportation and manufacturing, and the film industry to diversify our economy.
Public-private partnerships in the growth industries where ever possible should be encouraged and developed.
Special emphasis and support should be given to Albuquerque’s film industry which is developing, expanding and proving to be very successful in providing well paying jobs.
Albuquerque’s taxpayers must be convinced by its leaders of the importance of investing in major projects and in our neighborhoods to make Albuquerque more of a “walk able” City, where people can raise their family, work and make a living and have recreational and entertainment opportunities all within a small radius thereby reducing our reliance on the automobile.
A well designed, efficient mass transportation system is a basic essential service that must provided by a City.
Any mass transportation system that is developed must truly serve the entire community and not just a small geographic area such as is the poorly designed ART bus project which is destroying historic Route 66.
More community centers with recreational facilities would be a good start achieving a walk able city.
The City of Albuquerque needs to partner more with the State of New Mexico wherever possible.
A good first start in partnering with the State is to find a new vision for the State Fair grounds and how that very valuable gem in the center of Albuquerque can be better utilized to serve the Albuquerque community.
A suggestion would be for the City and State to jointly fund a tear down the old Tingly Coliseum and construct a multipurpose, state of the art facility that could be used for entertainment and sports events and operated year round with a joint powers agreement.
Other joint powers agreements can be entered into between the City, State and County for the mutual use of facilities.
Our political, business and civic leaders need to show far more backbone and commitment to improving and diversifying Albuquerque’s economy.
Otherwise, we are destined to become a dying, dusty southwest city without any real potential for growth and better economic times.