Dove-tailing on his previous talk, at the Rio Rancho Roundtable virtual NAIOP session March 4, Dale Dekker again asked a timely question: How do we diversify our economy?
In New Mexico, with oil and gas revenue expected to plummet, that’s not an easy question to answer.
But again, Dekker — a principal in the architectural firm of Dekker-Perich-Sabatini — had ideas for listeners to consider.
“New Mexico needs a strategic business plan,” Dekker said, stressing the importance of “connecting the dots.”
Those dots included critical infrastructure (pharmaceuticals, medical and personal protective equipment, aerospace, microelectronics, advanced manufacturing, critical manufacturing and defense industrial base) with economic development clusters (aerospace and defense, biosciences, cyber security, global trade, advanced manufacturing, green energy and sustainable agriculture), either from one such cluster to the other or vertically among either cluster.
It’s also important for economic growth to out-pace public growth, he said, as economic growth allows for infrastructure, schools, services and more to meet the needs of residents.
A thriving system, Dekker explained, allows economic-based companies to bring in outside money to grow the economy and circulate new dollars, rather than circulating the same dollars, thus creating a job-multiplier effect.
He said having Rio Rancho companies such as Lectrosonics, Insight Lighting and US Cotton lead to that flow of money coming in from outside. But more of that economic-base sector is needed.
Dekker provided a list of what matters most to site selectors, including available workforce skills, transportation infrastructure, the ease of permitting and regulatory procedures, the state and local tax scheme, a right-to-work structure, the cost and reliability of utilities, incentives, the legal climate and quality of life.
Apparently, soon-to-be Rio Rancho newcomer Nature’s Toolbox, moving here from Santa Fe, found the City of Vision to its liking: That cutting-edge bio-technology firm is bringing 116 high-tech jobs here, with an average annual salary of $74,000.
Another important consideration before bringing a new industry to a region or city is the category of city looked at: dying, stagnant, developing or thriving, Dekker said. Some March 4 participants agreed Rio Rancho is between developing and thriving.
Rio Rancho, Dekker added, needs “inventory,” such as vacant buildings suitable for an incoming firm, or available land with infrastructure in place and utilities nearby.
There are “amazing assets in this state,” Dekker said, but we’re “at a crossroads.”
Post-pandemic, he queried, will the state revert to the status quo or get a 21st century business plan, taking the lead in developing business strategies — Sandoval County, in conjunction with Valencia, Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties?
He estimated those counties’ population at some 908,000.
“We need to think as a region,” he said, and participate, advocate and collaborate.
“We have to be involved as a business community and private sector,” Dekker continued. “It’s up to us to sell New Mexico. People don’t know about us — we’re just a flyover state.”
And, with the pandemic winding down, he said, “It’s all about urgency. … The private sector, in my opinion, has to take the lead.”
Los Diamantes a good example
Rio Rancho is poised to play a role in what Dekker sees, using the example of Natural Grocers’ recent move from northwest Albuquerque to Rio Rancho, and pulling some dollars that would have been spent in Albuquerque into the city.
Los Diamantes can do the same, he said, with its planned 487 new homes and 34-acre business park, where grading has been completed.
Later this summer or early this fall, homes will start going up, developer Pierre Amestoy told those on the Zoom session. Homes will go up on 224 lots during Phase 1, and another 263 homes will be built later in Phase 2.
Zoning for the business park will “be broad,” but without any fast-food eateries, said Mike Skolnick of Excalibur Realty & Investments. He said he had to dicker with 22 landowners to obtain right-of-way for the expansion west of Westside Boulevard, which provides access from Unser Boulevard to Los Diamantes and the new Joe Harris Elementary.
“Retail follows the rooftops,” added Ben Perich, another principal in the architectural firm.
The next Rio Rancho Roundtable session is set for April 1, featuring a legislative update.