By Alan Webber, former Democratic candidate for governor and Santa Fe entrepreneur:
The legislative session is here. While there are many issues that deserve some attention, there is only one crisis that demands everyone’s focus: The dismal condition of the New Mexico economy.
We all know the same facts: high unemployment rate, low job creation rate, high poverty rate, shrinking population.
We all also know that New Mexico has enormous untapped potential. Our future is hiding in plain sight. We have everything we need to create our own strategy, to build our own future, to make New Mexico work for all of us.
That’s what this legislative session – and frankly, every legislative session for the forseeable future – needs to focus on. It’s time to go to work on the economy with a sense of pragmatism and urgency.
Here’s what we need to do.
Stop wasting precious time, money and political capital. In his classic business bestseller “Good to Great,” Jim Collins notes that all CEOs have “to do lists” – but great leaders have “stop doing lists.” When it comes to our economy, we need a stop doing list: Stop doing things that don’t work.
That means no more empty rhetoric about making New Mexico a “right to work” state. That won’t create jobs. No more wasted time on a “closing fund” to bribe out-of-state corporations to move here: Smokestack chasing doesn’t work.
Let’s focus on real solutions that will make a difference in the lives of New Mexicans.
Begin by investing in the infrastructure that matters most to our economy. Every part of the state should have high-speed internet connectivity. Do we want to be part of the digital economy? Do we want jobs not only making films, TV shows and digital games, but also editing them and doing post-production? Should education, health care and web-based commerce be available to every rural community? It’s simple: extend the Internet to every part of New Mexico.
Next improve cellular phone coverage for the whole state. If we want to be a state where people can do business any time and any place, we need total coverage for mobile phones and mobile apps. That’s how business gets done in the 21st century.
Then work on improving airplane service. When federal law governing Southwest Airlines lapsed, we lost critical flights. We need those flights back if we want the economy to grow.
Next we should take a hard look at State Auditor Tim Keller’s report that says we’ve got billions of taxpayer dollars allocated for capital improvements sitting unspent. If Keller is wrong, the Martinez administration needs to point it out. But if Keller is right, we need a task force to put that money to work – and use it to put New Mexicans to work at the same time.
There’s more low-hanging fruit. The Legislature overwhelmingly approved a bill to enable New Mexico’s farmers to explore industrial hemp as a high-value cash crop last session. The governor vetoed it. That bill makes good economic sense for our state.
So does support for wind, solar and renewable energy. By underinvesting in renewables, we’re passing up good jobs and an even better future for New Mexico.
Entrepreneurship and innovation are the hallmarks of the new economy. We’re starting to see signs that New Mexico is getting into the game: The State Investment Council just approved an allocation to promote startups. Cities, towns, schools and universities, nonprofits, businesses and unions should embrace our existing small businesses and our emerging startup culture as the right path to the future. It’s time for every New Mexican to think and act like an entrepreneur.
Two other big tasks face the Legislature. We need to invest in early childhood education, period. In the knowledge economy, education is economic development. And it’s past time that we rewrote our state tax laws. They’re out of date and hollowed out by giveaways and tax breaks. New Mexico needs a 21st-century tax code for a 21st-century economy.
There’s a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. It won’t all get done in one 30-day session. But we must start. There’s no time to waste. It’s time to go to work putting New Mexicans to work.
New Mexicans know Alan Webber as a former Democratic candidate for governor in 2014 and as a Santa Fe-based entrepreneur. His is the former co-founder of Fast Company magazine.