New Mexico needs an up-to-date economic strategy. Legal constraints and climatic fluctuations are decreasing reliable water supply for agriculture. Market forces and negative environmental impacts are challenging the viability of oil and gas production. Investments in federal facilities and programs are under attack. And politically-driven obstacles threaten the state’s expanding role in international trade.

We’re going to have to be smart, proactive, and flexible to deal with these challenges.For too long, our business development model has focused on cutting taxes for the wealthy and incentivizing relocation of out-of-state corporations, while slashing investment in the public sector. After decades of waiting for economic benefits to trickle down, things are as bad as ever for most New Mexicans.

As Lieutenant Governor, I’m committed to working with our next governor, the legislature, and community leaders to transform our economy from the bottom up. We must develop a comprehensive strategy that reframes our competitive advantages, supports the triple bottom line (i.e. social, environmental, and financial metrics), and is responsive to changing conditions from local, national, and global perspectives.

Such a plan must be grounded in a first-class public education system, access to affordable healthcare, a modern infrastructure, and sound environmental practices. From an economic development perspective, high priorities must include expanded programs for vocational education, bilingual competence, and statewide installation of broadband. Ensuring that all New Mexicans have access to high-speed internet will not only increase economic competitiveness in rural areas but also facilitate distance learning, telemedicine, and work-from-home jobs.

New Mexico occupies a largely semi-arid region surrounded at some distance by major urban center like Dallas, Phoenix, and Denver. A relatively small, multicultural population is dispersed across the state although the majority of people live along the Rio Grande corridor. Our challenge is to optimize economic activity within this social, natural, and political environment.

As we look toward new or expanded economic possibilities, several opportunities present themselves. Immediately obvious are wind and solar energy generation, commercial and personal space flight, and support for international and trans-continental trade. Others include tourism, film, the arts, and value-added processing of agricultural produce. Then there is the potential for using New Mexico as a lab for addressing the impact of climate change on arid-regions. Drought resistant crops, carbon-sequestration techniques, water reclamation, and energy conservation would be beneficial to our residents and marketable on a global basis.

Building a strategy around these possibilities depends on adequate funding for our research institutions and universities, strategic incentives for entrepreneurial ventures, and protection of our public and culturally significant areas. In addition, we must advocate for an open border with Mexico to the greatest extent possible.

And finally, we must respect the people who make up the New Mexico workforce. Workers deserve a safe work environment, equal pay for equal work, and a minimum wage that is a living wage. Workers also deserve the opportunity to live in fully functional communities with affordable housing, good roads, flood protection, utilities, public services, schools, medical services, access to healthy food, and recreational facilities. Lastly, New Mexicans deserve access to an education that prepares them for employment and supports them throughout their careers.

New Mexico cannot wait for economic conditions to improve on their own. A new partnership between the public and private sectors is needed. Federal policies that work against our interests must be resisted and federal investments pursued. And state funding must be increased for all essential public programs--including a jobs stimulus package tied to infrastructure development.

There’s no simple fix to solving our economic woes. Only by focusing on our strengths--and investing in our people--will we be able to realize the long-term prosperity all New Mexicans need and deserve.

By Billy Garrett, Las Cruces

Live from Silver City

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