Alan Webber: A five-point plan for NM economy

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This op-ed originally appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News:

New Mexico’s economy is in crisis.

To call it anything less is to refuse to face facts. When it comes to job creation, small business growth, entrepreneurial startups, wage improvement — virtually any economic indicator you can think of — New Mexico is in deep trouble.

That’s why our own people are fleeing our state. They are out of work and out of hope.

They know the economy isn’t some abstract economic theory. The economy is about people. It’s an expression of our confidence in ourselves and in our future.

Right now, that confidence is at an all-time low.

Make no mistake: This crisis is not caused by “big government” or some scary theory out of an old Austrian economic textbook.

Our current crisis is a direct result of more than three years of Gov. Susana Martinez’s incompetence and indifference. Having come to the governor’s job with no experience in the private sector, with no vision or strategy to guide the state’s economy, with the prosecutorial mindset of a district attorney and the personal ambition of a self-serving politician, Martinez has driven the New Mexico economy into the ditch.

The job of governor is to have a vision and a strategy for the state’s future, and to display the leadership skills to work constructively with business, labor, nonprofits and the faith-based community to move the state forward.

But Susana Martinez is no leader. She is ill-prepared and ill-equipped when it comes to economic leadership.

However, with new leadership, an agenda for New Mexico’s economic future is almost self-evident. We can build a strong and sustainable economic portfolio that takes advantage of New Mexico’s diversity — and recognizes that our state has not just one economy, but many economies.

Here’s a simple five-step program to get New Mexico working.

First, build the economy from the ground up. Assign local economic development agents to work with small and medium-sized businesses across New Mexico. Right now, when it comes to helping small businesses grow, according to a report in The Economist newspaper, New Mexico rates a D+. Want a better grade? Make it faster, easier and simpler to do business with state government.

Second, make New Mexico a fast state. The Internet changes everything — it is creating the economic future. New Mexico is currently tied with Mississippi as the nation’s sixth slowest state when it comes to Internet speeds. Without high-speed Internet service, it’s hard to foster an entrepreneurial economy — which explains why New Mexico is ranked No. 48 in the annual State Entrepreneurial Index. In case you think leadership in the governor’s office doesn’t matter, New Mexico’s ranking has fallen 31 places in the last two years.

Third, build on what’s already working — and could work even better. When Susana Martinez took office, New Mexico had the nation’s most successful state-level film program. She knee-capped it — purely on political grounds. Now other states, such as Georgia, are doing more and going farther, developing job-training programs to lock in the film and entertainment industries.

Fourth, focus on the future. Whoever gets to the future first, wins. New Mexico could win this race by focusing on energy and water. With so much sunshine, we should be the nation’s most solarized state. With so little water, we should lead the country in water management technology. We have cutting edge technology that’s looking for help in getting to market.

Fifth, support entrepreneurship of all kinds. New Mexico is rich in innovators: social entrepreneurs who want to use business practices to solve social problems; cultural entrepreneurs for whom art is both a calling and a way to make a living; entrepreneurs looking to start a for-profit enterprise. They need a supportive ecosystem — starting with an innovative state government.

Those are examples of short-term initiatives to get New Mexico out of the ditch.

Long-term, the agenda needs to include investing in early childhood education; putting more money into education at all levels, including money to make our universities centers of excellence; more job training to produce the next generation of skilled workers; and a progressive tax code that reflects the economy of the future, rather than the one from the past.

All of this is doable.

We are not ordained to be the worst performing state in the country. Other states have fashioned turnarounds, embracing new leadership to chart a new course.

We need to create our own vision, fashion our own strategy and select new leaders. We need solutions that work for problems that matter. That’s progressive pragmatism. That’s the New Mexico Way.

Alan Webber was a Democratic candidate for governor.