The Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) has the potential to be a true road map that brings together many voices from your region to form a common vision for economic prosperity and resilience. Through the CEDS Spotlight case studies series, the NADO Research Foundation is highlighting best practices and innovative elements of CEDS planning, development, and implementation from EDDs and other regional development organizations across the country.
Though the Albuquerque, New Mexico region averages only about nine inches of rain per year, regional leaders and key stakeholders there have embraced the metaphor of a rainforest as a model for economic development. Rainforest ecosystems are diverse, interconnected, and experimental – just like the most innovative and entrepreneurial communities and regions, says Viktor Hwang, Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation and author of the book, The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley. Hwang visited Albuquerque in 2013 as the region was shifting into fully embracing an entrepreneurship and start-up culture to counter the recession, which hit the area later than the rest of the country in 2010.
“The focus on entrepreneurship as an economic development strategy really touched a nerve in the region and took hold,” says Ann Simon, the Economic Development Program Manager at the Mid-Region New Mexico Council of Governments (MRCOG), the area’s Economic Development District. “Though we are an urban area in New Mexico, we are so far away from [larger metros] that we have to do this recovery ourselves.” Another major challenge facing the region is its heavy reliance on federal funding, identified as the top threat in the SWOT analysis carried out by the MRCOG while developing the CEDS. According to the CEDS, New Mexico was the most federal government-dependent state in 2015.
All of these challenges – the recession, its relative isolation, and reliance on federal funding – led the region’s leaders in 2013 to pivot towards an entrepreneurship-focused economic development approach that would grow from within. Despite the obstacles facing the Albuquerque region, it has many local assets and resources in its institutions, leaders, and business community that are helping to grow its entrepreneurial ecosystem. These players include the University of New Mexico which has encouraged entrepreneurship training and has a strong patents and trade division, the city’s economic development director under the current mayor who is a former serial entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, world-class research institutions including Sandia National Laboratories, and other local businesses and residents.
One of the most tangible results of the Albuquerque region’s development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region has been the launch of InnovateABQ, a public-private partnership which is working towards the build-out of a seven-acre innovation campus for researchers, students, start-ups, laboratories, and more. This past summer the campus’ first phase opened, a 159,000 square-foot building appropriately named the “Rainforest Building.” Plans call for an eventual 600,000 square-feet of space to be constructed. The MRCOG was one of the key players instrumental in securing funding from EDA to support the creation and sustainability of InnovateABQ, which also receives funding from the city, county, and the New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union (now Nusenda Credit Union).
Naturally, this entrepreneurship approach to economic development became the central focus of the MRCOG’s 2015 CEDS, called “Cultivating Economic Development and Entrepreneurship in Ingenuity Central” (Ingenuity Central is a regional branding effort that supports business growth and attraction). The CEDS process brought together over 250 diverse stakeholders from both urban and rural communities in the region. “Entrepreneurship had to be the umbrella for the CEDS plan,” says Simon from the MRCOG. “It was only natural that the community started to rely on what it does best—pulling up its own bootstraps in the true western tradition. The West wasn’t settled easily, it was done with grit and determination.” This determination has led to partnerships and projects like InnovateABQ, the growth of accelerators and incubators, and business development in the region’s urban core as well as in the rural counties, including drone research and development that was conducted in Torrance County.
All of these efforts have the ultimate goal of making the Albuquerque region more resilient to future economic shocks and disruptions. As the CEDS itself calls out: “Nothing says resiliency like the entrepreneurial mindset. And a land-locked region like central New Mexico breeds entrepreneurs who are self-reliant, can pivot and swerve with changing climates, and are accustomed to bootstrapping.” The MRCOG’s “Cultivating Economic Development and Entrepreneurship in Ingenuity Central” CEDS is one of the critical pieces in achieving a collaborative effort to nurture and sustain the Albuquerque region’s economic rainforest.
An interview with Ann Simon, Economic Development Program Manager
What does the CEDS mean to your region? How has it helped shape the conversation about regional economic development?
In a region like central New Mexico, which includes the first and third largest cities in the state, there are a lot of economic development players so the best role of the Mid-Region Council of Governments is one of convener. The CEDS is a great tool to bring various partners together both to provide input into its development and to help in its implementation.
How have you incorporated the concept of resilience into your CEDS?
The focus of this five-year CEDS is entrepreneurship. Because New Mexico entered the recession late (in 2010) and has been late in pulling itself out of the recession (Albuquerque is the last recovering metro area in the US) it was only natural that the community started to rely on what it does best—pulling up its own bootstraps in the true western tradition. The West wasn’t settled easily, it was done with grit and determination. Those values are naturally resilient because they empower communities to rely on their own talents, creativity, and ingenuity.
What ways have you developed and nurtured partnerships with both traditional partners and underrepresented groups?
The MRCOG works hard at being responsive, reliable, and professional with all clients served, whether they are member governments or economic development partners. We do this by offering our tools and services, such as our economic development modeling software REMI, our GIS mapping programs, or our specialized socio-economic data. We will also travel to our more rural communities and tribal communities to provide planning workshops and hold job fairs. Finally, our work as the Rio Metro Transportation entity allows us to provide transit connectivity throughout the region.
How have you taken your CEDS process from planning to implementation? Any strong examples?
The focus areas of the CEDS touch real initiatives that are currently underway. The CEDS is a snapshot of all the efforts shaping the regional economy in this five-year period. While some efforts are moving ahead at a different pace, they all have drivers and momentum. The MRCOG supports these efforts by helping to raise awareness with the community, elected officials, and partners; by helping to supply data or administrative support; or, in the case of one focus area around manufacturing and assembly, by raising funds. In the latter example, the MRCOG raised funds to administer a study of ways the region could leverage its transportation and logistics assets to increase outbound freight. The year-long Transportation and Logistics Hub Study provided a key roadmap to move that focus area forward.
- View Mid-Region New Mexico COG’s CEDS, “Cultivating Economic Development and Entrepreneurship in Ingenuity Central” here.
- Want to learn more about this CEDS? Contact Ann Simon, Economic Development Program Manager, at [email protected].
Click here to access additional case studies in the CEDS Spotlight series
Do you have a best practice or innovative approach to developing, designing, and implementing the CEDS? Contact NADO RF Program Manager Brett Schwartz at [email protected].
This case studies series is presented through NADO’s Stronger CEDS, Stronger Regions program, funded through a generous grant from the US Economic Development Administration.