John Strong: “New Mexico Needs A Moonshot in Technology”

John B. Strong has lived in New Mexico since 1997. He is a highly successful private business owner and has been investing in business startups since 2004. He is a co-founder or board member at several different companies, mostly in technology, healthcare, and financial services. Mr. Strong describes himself as being “obsessed” with entrepreneurship and small businesses.

On October 11, Mr. Strong’s article “Keeping up with Wyoming” Or How to “Stake our claim to a piece of a multi-trillion-dollar industry” was published on this blog. You can read the blog article here:

The below article written by Mr. Strong is essentially “Part 2” of his October 11 article.

(NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are those of John Strong and do not necessarily reflect those of the political blog blog.)


Here in New Mexico we are finally getting really aggressive at courting economic development opportunities for the state and trying hard to lure companies here. We’ve had some notable successes in attracting major commitments from Netflix and NBC Universal. These are important wins, but the cost is also very high to entice them. I read this morning that we are anticipating giving back cash rebates to the film industry of $81 million dollars this year and growing to nearly $165 Million over the next few years. Thats a lot of money, and hopefully we will be getting an adequate return on that investment, as well as being able to wean this industry off these rebates as they mature here.

There is, however, an opportunity in technology that will give us really meaningful returns, with a much smaller investment that will not need to be permanent either. That opportunity is Boot Camps. Specifically Boot Camps for software developer/programmers and Data Scientists. If you are unfamiliar with Boot Camps, they are immersive, intensive training programs for about 12 weeks or so full time (40 hours per week plus) and when you exit them you are certified as a software programmer/developer or Data Scientist.

These Boot Camps are an increasingly important part of the technology ecosystem here, and are professional occupations that are in very high demand. In fact the Bureau of Labor Statistics says these are the fifth fastest growing professional jobs in the country, and we will be needing in excess of 300,000 of them at a minimum in the next 10 years. Extrapolated for population New Mexico should be getting over 6000 of these jobs, but we can get many more. Here’s how.

In the San Francisco, Los Angeles ,Boston, and Washington DC areas, software developers can expect starting salaries of approximately $100,000 per year and Data Scientists more than $200,000 per year. In New Mexico the average starting salaries for these positions are $50,000 and $95,000. This is creating a large demand for outsourcing from Western States and the Boston/Washington DC areas to less expensive regions, and New Mexico is one of the least expensive. The three main local bootcamps are already fielding requests from companies out of state for outsourcing, and that can increase dramatically.

There are a few roadblocks for the Boot Camps and the opportunities for outsourcing. Here’s what we can do remove them:

Boot Camps cost anywhere from $8,000 to $9,000 for the full course. Students also need a laptop computer if they do not have one, as well living expenses for 90 days as these are full time camps for 12 weeks. Obviously, some students will work some evenings, but it is not realistic for them to work full time. All of this can be done for less than $15,000 per student.

What will we get in return? Let’s do some math. The placement rate for graduates in these Boot Camps is in excess of 85% in the first 6 months. The average starting salary for a Software developr/programmer or full stack developer is $50,000 per year and increasing to around $60-$70,000 from there. For a Data Scientist it is $95,000 rising to over $110,000 after a year or two. In addition to that for each Data Scientist that we create , they will need the support of as many 5-software developer/programmers. Both of these occupations have unemployment rates of less than 2%. Even better, creating a professional technology job comes with a job multiplier in excess of 4. That’s 4 additional jobs for every one we create.

Contrast that with manufacturing jobs that have an average multiplier of 1.4 and an even bigger bonus here is that the 4 additional jobs created from tech are heavily waited to professions such as lawyers, accountants and CPA’s, marketing specialists, and engineers. In manufacturing the multiplier jobs skew towards retail and restaurant occupations. We are also giving ourselves something else here that we desperately need: employment opportunities for other professionals who are exiting our University System. Currently, there is a real lack of job opportunities for theses graduates, and they are leaving for states like Colorado, Arizona, Texas, and California. Keeping them here has to be a top priority for our state. A growing technology ecosystem will help provide the opportunities to keep these University graduates here.

Let’s make some comparisons to what we give the film industry and what we can do with bootcamps. Here’s an excerpt from the Albuquerque Journal on Oct 24th:

“… New Mexico expects the amount it pays out in film tax credits to double over a four-year period, from about $81 million this year to $165 million in fiscal 2023.

Representatives of the state Economic Development Department told lawmakers Wednesday that they are working to collect and share more data to help lawmakers evaluate the economic impact of the film tax credit.

They estimate that the film industry pays better than the state average and that it’s responsible for about 8,000 jobs altogether, in direct and indirect employment. Sen. Jim White, R-Albuquerque, said the size of the film industry demonstrates the importance of scrutinizing whether the tax credits are worthwhile. “The thing that’s scary,” he said, “is the more they spend, the more we have to give them. … .”

You can read the full Journal story here:

So it seems that we are on track to give the film industry in excess of $400,000,000 over the next 4 years! That’s a lot of money to create 8000 jobs. In fact, it’s more than $50,000 per job. Let’s compare that to our bootcamp jobs. If we graduate over 4-5 years 250 Data Scientists and 1,000 software programmers/developers the job multiplier will add an additional 5000 jobs. So now we have an impact of 6,250 jobs. Most all of them professional jobs at that. If we paid the entire cost of each qualified applicant to one of these camps ($15,000) it would be less than $19,000,000, or less than $3500 per job. And that’s if we paid for everything with no reimbursements at all.

You may be asking why the state would need to get involved here? The reason is that these programs do not currently qualify for traditional student loans and funding. There are some grants available from foundations and companies, but it is not nearly enough. We have to also consider the social benefits we can get here as well. We are taking people who are largely working in retail, call center, and restaurant occupations paying $10-$12 per hour and converting them into professional job holders earning $50,000 plus. That is very meaningful when you take a person who is currently able to afford an apartment with roommates, and put them in a short time in a position to actually own their own home and raise a family. The benefits there are clear, in reductions in all of the ills that come with low income and poverty. We know that this leads to reduced levels of crime, addiction, physical abuse, and mental illness. How do you even place a value on that?

I would advocate that we take a strong look at this, as well as a comprehensive budget to promote New Mexico as the Technology State. If we create a marketing program similar to tourism’s “New Mexico True” program that targets bringing in outsourcing from other companies, there is a significant amount of money to be made. When we get those outsourcing dollars, we are essentially exporting knowledge and importing wages into the state. Economically it just doesn’t get much better than that. Even if we have a marketing budget of $10,000,000 promoting the state, and then paying tuition and expenses we are still less than $30,000,000 over a few years. That’s a rounding error in our surplus, and it is minuscule in comparison to what we are giving the film industry.

I’d also take one additional step. I would have the state appoint a Technology Czar at a cabinet level position. The issues and support needed in recruitment and nurturing our technology base are quite different than the brick and mortar businesses we are after in economic development, and a number of leading technology CEO’s here have voiced their concern to me that they really do not have anywhere to go for help and to give critical input on their needs. They need a full-time advocate to interface with the Governor’s office, legislature, and departments such as Tax and Rev, and Regulation and licensing. By appointing a Czar, we are telling our burgeoning technology base as well as the rest of the nation that we are dead serious about this commitment, and there is nothing temporary about it. Other states are seriously looking at these industries, but we are uniquely situated to be the most competitive and we have the resources to surpass everyone else.

I’ll end this article the same as the last one by asking that when you see your elected officials, or political leaders, asked them what they are doing to ensure that New Mexico is the technology state.

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.