Happy birthday, Rio Rancho!

The city officially turns 40 on Tuesday. On Feb. 23, 1981, the first mayor and city councilors, along with the first municipal judge, were sworn into office and held the first governing body meeting.

The city has come a long way.

According to Observer archives, the 1980 census showed a little more than 10,000 people living in what would become Rio Rancho city limits. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated just over 99,000 folks were living here in July 2019.

We’re still waiting for 2020 census results, but our population is likely even higher now, with the community growing as rapidly as it is.

Before 1981, Rio Rancho had no school district, police department or fire department of its own. Now, we have all three, and they’re well-respected for their great work and staunchly supported by the community.

From early on, Intel Corp.’s local plant has been a major factor in the local economy, and AMREP, the original developer, is still active in the community. The city’s commercial sector has grown to include many more businesses, both retail and economic-base.

Local leaders are still working to recruit more businesses, especially the economic-base companies, which bring in outside dollars, to boost the economy and provide enough of a tax base to support governmental services. That’s been one of a number of challenges the city still faces.

Problems are a reality for any community, but we don’t need to be discouraged, because we have a good foundation from which to work on solving them. We have our struggles and disagreements, but Rio Rancho is a great place to be.

There had been plans for 40th anniversary celebrations to start last summer and continue throughout this year. Those plans were among the things the novel coronavirus pandemic brought to a screeching halt last spring.

Now, we’re seeing virus counts drop and vaccination rates increase, so maybe we can have community celebrations later this year. It’s a nice prospect.

The Observer is planning a special section highlighting Rio Rancho’s history and 40th anniversary this summer. Our history buff, Gary Herron, has already compiled a lengthy article from the Observer archives, walking the reader from the Rio Rancho Estates’ preparations for incorporation through today.

Keep an eye out for the section. It’ll be a trip down memory lane — or a course in local history for people who weren’t here to remember — for a unique city.

We’re getting this party started — in a socially distanced manner, for now.