Building a strong regional economy takes time, bringing multiple entities together to combat siloing and duplication, and focusing on solving systemic problems.
Danielle Casey, who will be at the helm of the organization for nearly two years, called on industry, academic and government leaders to work together to build the region’s economy. in a presentation at the Albuquerque Economic Forum Wednesday at the Embassy Suites.
“We all have to be,” Casey said. “We have to work with the state; We need to work with local governments in a very meaningful way. … We’ve worked very, very directly with UNM and CNM and done some extremely creative things. I believe they have an uncanny ability to really transform and impact our economy.”
NM in comparison
Despite AREA’s success in attracting expanding businesses to the region, there is still room for improvement, Casey said. New Mexico tends to lag behind other similarly sized markets.
Job recovery in the region has been about a negative 1.8% over the past two years, compared to positive trends from regions like Dallas, Texas, and Boise, Idaho — both of which had job recovery rates above 6%, according to Casey.
This may be partly due to the comparatively low population growth of the Albuquerque region. The region recorded an increase of around 17,000 people from 2016 to 2022. Meanwhile, places like Boise grew by nearly 100,000 residents and Phoenix by nearly half a million over the same period.
Add to that the state’s unemployment rate and activity rate — which measures the number of working-age people actively working or looking for work — and New Mexico is trending in all the wrong directions, Casey said.
Casey said that to give the region a better sense of how these numbers can grow, comparisons should be made to other markets.
“We have to stop comparing ourselves to ourselves,” she said. “We have to keep going and very consciously measure ourselves against our competitors.”
Casey presented some numbers that explain the organization’s success in making the Albuquerque region – which includes Sandoval, Valencia, Torrance and Bernalillo counties – a place for potential businesses to be a good fit.
Those numbers include a handful of project announcements this year that will contribute 1,845 jobs and $2.6 billion in capital investment in the region, Casey said, as well as about $1.6 billion in new and annually recurring economic activity.
One such project comes from an investment group that includes Louisville-based Manna Capital Partners and Ball Corp. based in Colorado, for an aluminum fabrication facility that is expected to add hundreds of jobs to Los Lunas and have an economic impact in excess of $3.4 billion over the next decade. Other projects AREA has been involved with over the past year include the expansion of Alstate Steel, Universal Hydrogen, BlueHalo and life sciences manufacturer Curia.
42 companies have visited the region in the last year and most of these companies – 86% of them to be precise – have expressed a need to expand both in terms of staff and space.
Approximately 65% of AREA’s prospective companies want to expand in manufacturing.
But Casey called this a challenge for the region because there isn’t enough space for manufacturers. She said the organization is working on this issue with partners. However, she called these types of jobs for New Mexicans positive.
“It will result in a better life and better quality of work for people in the community,” she said.
How is this fixed?
Casey said the private and public sectors must work together to create an environment that is welcoming and sustainable for companies expanding into the region.
In the case of AREA, formerly known as Albuquerque Economic Development, the organization has taken steps to create a broader view of the region’s needs.
The organization has established advisory boards that span the public and private sectors, with specific focus areas that include technology and innovation leaders and public-facing economic development industries.
The region needs to build a skilled workforce and adequately fund economic development to sustain the region’s upward trend, Casey said. And to be more well-rounded, companies need to come together to create a more robust site-ready program for companies looking to expand into the area.
“If we’re not all working together and thinking about how we’re going to move the region forward, then we’re really, really missing the boat,” Casey said. “…We will be uncompromisingly honest about our current economic rankings, and we will not accept them.”