Returning City of Rio Rancho Economic Development and Business Relations Manager Matt Geisel stands in the foyer on the fourth floor of City Hall.
Photo by Argen Duncan/Observer

The City of Rio Rancho’s past economic development director is its new economic development director.

Economic Development and Business Relations Manager Matt Geisel spent eight years with the city before leaving to be the New Mexico Economic Development Department cabinet secretary in the last 2½ years of the Susana Martinez administration. Now he’s back in Rio Rancho’s City Hall, refamiliarizing, recalibrating and reacclimating, as he put it.

“Well, the good news is I already knew where the coffee maker was,” he joked.

Geisel said it would be foolish to think he knew everything after his time working outside Rio Rancho.

“It’s the same, but it’s evolved. I’m the same, but I evolved,” he said.

He’s been reading to refresh his memory on the city’s economic development tool box. Many of the policies and ordinances are 10-30 years old, and Geisel wants to make sure they’re still accurate and applicable.

He also plans to update the economic-development how-to guides.

Breaking up his reading time, he’s also been reconnecting with the local economic players and helping support various projects.

In Rio Rancho, the perception is that the economy needs recruitment, retail and residential, Geisel said. However, 86-97 percent of new jobs come from existing companies.

That makes keeping existing businesses very important, he continued, and Sandoval Economic Alliance has made strides in that area.

Geisel said trying to generate more gross receipts tax income through retail and to draw in retail by attracting big companies and more people is no longer the way to go.

“We’re at a point where retail’s a very shifting space,” he said.

The methods of retail have changed greatly over just a few years.

“And I don’t know what the answer is,” Geisel said.

What he thinks will help the local economy is encouraging companies to redevelop aging parts of the city and fill in empty spaces in developed areas, where infrastructure already is. New business using existing infrastructure means a greater return on investment, he said.

Geisel also likes SEA’s VeriReady program, which gets paperwork done in advance on potential building sites, saving time for companies.

“It’s putting us in the position for the next wave of buildings,” he said.

Across the country, he continued, developers have largely stopped building without having tenants, but Rio Rancho still needs to show that a facility can go up in a certain amount of time.

His story in New Mexico started in 2005, when he moved to Rio Rancho with residential developer PulteGroup Inc. to help create the Loma Colorado subdivision. His job involved building relationships, making sales pitches and other skills that relate to business development.

“It was a very high-pressure, high-stress environment, but it was still very collaborative,” Geisel said.

It also gave him lots of interaction with city government.

Geisel said he’d intended to leave once Loma Colorado was done, but he liked New Mexico. So, he took a job managing the Rio Rancho Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2009.

“Little did I know that was the beginning of a career in public service. It grows on you,” he said. “… It meant more than chasing monthly sales numbers and quarterly results.”

During Geisel’s second week on the job, then-City Manager James Jimenez asked him to look at the operations of Santa Ana Star Center. He’s proud to have helped stabilize the venue and increase the number of events there.

Eventually, he started troubleshooting business-related problems, using knowledge gained from working on a big development.

The next city manager, Keith Riesberg, instructed Geisel to make business development his top priority. Recruiting Safelite AutoGlass, with 900 to 1,000 jobs, is a highlight.

“That’s a big number anywhere in the country,” Geisel said of the job count.

City work brought him into contact with the Martinez administration. When he was invited to become a cabinet secretary, he accepted and helped with hundreds of projects.

“Projects are like kids — you love them all,” Geisel said.

One effort that stands out to him is helping startup technology company 3D Glass Solutions, which has high-paying jobs, find investors and stay in New Mexico. The project even involved a trip to Tokyo.

As cabinet secretary, Geisel also helped overcome linguistic and cultural barriers to recruit Taiwanese manufacturer Admiral Cable to Santa Teresa. He said the company’s move could lead to a Taiwan manufacturing cluster in New Mexico.

After the Martinez administration wrapped up, Geisel took time to rest and then started consulting on site selection. As he traveled with clients, he compared New Mexico and Rio Rancho to other places.

“I realized how much I was missing the cause, the impact, the mission part of the job,” he said.

Plus, Mayor Gregg Hull kept asking him about working for the city again.

“Working here always meant more than a job to me,” Geisel said, adding that the position has been a process of coming home.