From left, U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and N.M. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham listen to the remarks of Keyvan Esfarjani, Intel senior vice president and general manager of Manufacturing and Operations, during the announcement of Intel’s $3.5 million in its Rio Rancho plant Monday. Gary Herron photo.

Work to bolster the economy was the main focus at the Thursday morning NAIOP Rio Rancho Roundtable virtual session.
Sparked by the May 3 news that Intel was investing $3.5 billion into its sprawling Rio Rancho campus, and bringing 700 new high-tech jobs and 1,000 construction jobs, creating new jobs and training a workforce were among the topics.

Gregg Hull

The Intel announcement, Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull said, was “probably the most exciting news any community could get.”
Sandoval County Manager Wayne Johnson said Intel’s investment would lead to a $70 million impact in the county, a $70 million impact in Rio Rancho, a $60 million impact on Rio Rancho Public Schools and a bigger impact on Central New Mexico Community College.
Everything the handful of guest speakers talked about dealt with improving the economy, from the $10 million project to widen Westside Boulevard from two to four lanes, improving access to the Unser Gateway for commuters — and future workers in that area — to initiatives within the county to provide training to those seeking jobs, even some with jobs seeking better jobs.
The Westside project is expected to be completed by summer 2022. That will leave one final improvement to Westside, between Unser and Rainbow boulevards, which will enhance the burgeoning Los Diamantes subdivision and Rio Rancho Public Schools’ buildings, possibly including another high school in the next few years.
Johnson said the county is working to “fill the doughnut hole,” which includes creating and improving infrastructure, such as roads, drainage, water and sewer.

Wayne Johnson

Thanks to the Local Economic Development Act, the county was able to invest $253,000 in six LEDA projects, creating 40 permanent jobs, Johnson said.
The county is working to expand the available workforce, improve business retention and expansion programs, plus increase housing and education.
Jerry Schalow, president and CEO of the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce, said county residents have employment resources available through Upskill Sandoval (upskillsandoval.com), a free workforce development program providing training and education opportunities to help build the county’s economy.
Schalow, noting CNM’s role in Upskill Sandoval, said one could obtain a commercial driver’s license through the program in four months, and apprenticeship and internship opportunities are available. There’s good money to be made in the trades, such as HVAC, plumbing and electrical work, he said, and Upskill Sandoval can be a pathway to those.
Melinda Allen, president and CEO of NM Partnership (NMPartnership.com) told of her Albuquerque organization’s state-designated role of aiding businesses in site selection. Attracting business is the role, she said, and that’s part of “a three-legged stool,” which also includes legs of business retention and expansion, and entrepreneur development.
With site selection, she explained, 100 to 500 inquiries may produce only two to 10 valid leads, resulting in two to six actual contacts and maybe only one that leads to eventual location in New Mexico.
NM Partnership, she added, has more than 100 “active projects,” 60 percent of which are in manufacturing.

Fred Shepherd

Fred Shepherd, president and CEO of Sandoval Economic Alliance, lamented the traditional local economy “leakage” to Albuquerque, namely the large number of Sandoval County residents who leave their homes daily to work there.
Still, Shepherd said the pandemic helped reduce that leakage, with so many area residents remaining home, many working from home, and buying gasoline and more products locally.
Shepherd said SEA’s “economic gardening” project has played a role in business success in the county, with five in the pilot program — four of them in Rio Rancho — learning so much more about business, competition, etc.
Area residents can look forward to an Intel Community Celebration next month, with more to be learned at the Rio Rancho Roundtable session June 3, with Intel’s local director of public affairs, Erika Edgerly, a guest speaker. Nature’s Toolbox and Rio Rancho’s new Campus Park will be highlighted at the July session.

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer