County, city need to get off of sidelines and into the game

SEA CEO Steve Jenkins

Being a successful economic competitor today is a simple decision: You decide to compete or just sit on the sidelines and watch the parade of economic opportunities go by.

That means you must have assets that accommodate new business locations or the expansion of existing businesses.

Before addressing this important item, I would like to discuss where we are today.

Sandoval County and Rio Rancho are “bedroom” communities. Most of our workforce leaves the county for work, which was verified by the recent Target Industry and Laborshed Study commissioned by Sandoval Economic Alliance (SEA).

Bedroom communities eventually find themselves in a financial hole, particularly if there is rapid growth, and are strained to provide public services. A recent study conducted over many years in a cross-section of 151 U.S. communities found that for every $1 in tax revenue from residential development, local government pays $1.16 for services to those developments.

Conversely, for commercial and industrial development, the cost of services is only $0.30!

We all want more retail, restaurants, entertainment, cultural and recreational opportunities, but that can only be supported by a strong, growing and sustainable foundation of economic-base businesses, or those that create new payrolls and tax base by exporting at least 50 percent of their products and services out of the state. These economic-base businesses, in turn, create more personal and governmental financial resources (income) to support those developments.

The bottom line is that we need to make a concerted effort to move from being a bedroom community to a vibrant economic center. We must decide to be a competitor.

SEA’s primary focus is the attraction, expansion, retention and development of economic-base jobs and investments for Rio Rancho and Sandoval County. Shortly, we will reveal very aggressive strategies centered on recommendations from the Target Industry and Laborshed Study.

But, the community has a competitive issue: lack of land and buildings for immediate occupancy.

In the last two weeks, we lost three prospects because we did not have a suitable building to meet the client’s needs. Those three companies potentially would have created close to 200 jobs.

Economic-base companies also like to locate in “shovel-ready” (all infrastructure in place) business parks or commerce centers that cater to similar operations. Prospective companies also expect the land at a reduced cost or free in return for jobs and investments, not as a giveaway but under a performance-based contract.

If they fail to meet their contractual obligations, they owe the community with interest.

We have scattered sites over the community but many lack ready-to-use infrastructure to allow quick start-up by companies, which is essential in today’s competitive world.

So, how do we address these two important competitive issues?

First, SEA is implementing a Virtual Building Program that will provide buildings that are pre-designed and permitted on a site. This is estimated to eliminate three to four months in the process from design to occupancy.

This basically will equate to the time necessary to retrofit an existing building and is much less costly than speculative buildings and their carrying costs.

Second, we strongly urge consideration of development of fully serviced, publicly owned “commerce centers” that are attractive to the economic targets we will pursue over the next two to three years. The land around City Center will be important to some of the targeted sectors but will not suffice for others.

Rio Rancho and Sandoval County have many exceptional attributes for businesses, but we must realize that to successfully compete in economic development, we must decide to be a formable competitor. Otherwise, we will always be reliant on what our neighboring communities offer us.

(Steve Jenkins is the president and CEO of Sandoval Economic Alliance.)

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