On this episode of the Economic Development podcast, Annemarie Henton, VP, Business Development & Marketing of Albuquerque Economic Development, shares the emerging industries coming out of the region and how Tesla’s SpaceX and Virgin Galactic is drawing interest in the region.

I think there’s going to be some interesting data that comes out for companies to where they re-evaluate which pieces of our business can be done remotely and which pieces still need to happen in person.

Episode Highlights:

  • 01:39 – Albuerque has always been a hub of scientific and technology talent and has the highest concentration of PhDs.
  • 03:29 – Albuquerque’s talent availability and cost of living will continue to position it as an attractive community to live in as remote work becomes a bigger reality.
  • 04:50 – Software development, fintech, and medical technology is showing strong growth in the region.
  • 07:00 – Between Tesla’s SpaceX, Virgin Galatic, and Nexflix’s corporate studio all located in the Albuquerque metro, the region is producing significant sector growth in software, aerospace, and gaming.
  • 08:28 – The remote trend and the need for space and social distancing positions communities like Albuquerque so much more competitively.
  • 09:27 – Mid size and smaller cities, such as Albuquerque are absolutely going to be the beneficiaries of the shift back to suburban living.
  • 10:46 – Quality of life definition is shifting in a post-pandemic world.

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Episode Transcript:

Annemarie Henton  00:00
I think in large part, our growth, especially in the last couple years has come from people discovering the amazing assets that already exist here. We have an incredible workforce pipeline of nearly 60,000 college students in our state. We have a high concentration of PhDs as a result of our scientific and technological community. So I think there’s a number of reasons on why we’ve been on people’s radars recently. And I think that’s going to continue to move forward especially after this pandemic situation because Albuquerque is also a low cost opportunity for both companies and talented professionals.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  00:51
This is Fabiola Fleuranvil with Blueprint Creative Group and you’re tuning into the economic development podcast where we’re now talking about shifting from response towards recovery and resiliency. Today’s guest is Annemarie Henton with the Albuquerque Economic Development organization. How are you Annemarie?

Annemarie Henton  01:10
I’m doing really well. Thank you. Thank you for having me on the show.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  01:14
So, let’s talk about your region. Obviously, New Mexico has received a lot of recognition in the past few years for growth and for certain growth in your targeted industries as well. So, obviously your region, your community has benefited from it. What do you think was the pivot or the milestone that shifted things for your state and your region?

Annemarie Henton  01:39
Well, the Albuquerque metro area specifically, we have nearly a million people in our metro area. It is the biggest city in the state of New Mexico. Organizationally, specifically, I just want to clarify Albuquerque Economic Development, Inc. We are a private nonprofit economic development organization. So we’re funded by the local business community to create jobs, bring new employers to our community, and help local companies expand. But the Albuquerque metro area has always been on the forefront of innovation. So with Sandia National Laboratories here Los Almos National Labs, just two hours away, the Air Force Research Lab, and Kurtland Air Force Base, this has always been a community that is rich in scientific and technological innovation. So we’ve produced some of the most innovative and important scientific and technological advances that the entire country benefits from for years.

Annemarie Henton  02:39
So this is quite the research and development hub. And I would say our community is so used to doing the work and we hadn’t necessarily been as good about talking about the work that we do. And because population wise we’re a relatively small state in comparison to our neighbors such as Arizona, Texas, and Colorado, we find that people don’t hear about New Mexico as often as they do some of these other more large metropolitan areas. So I think in large part, our growth, especially in the last couple years has come from people discovering the amazing assets that already exist here. We have an incredible workforce pipeline of nearly 60,000 college students in our state, and we have a high concentration of PhDs as a result of our scientific and technological community.

Annemarie Henton  03:29
I think there’s a number of reasons that has been on people’s radars recently, and I think that’s going to continue to move forward especially after this pandemic situation because Albuquerque is also a low cost opportunity for both companies and talented professionals. So for anybody who’s looking for that more midsize, small city quality of life where you can afford to buy a home and have a yard and where businesses can get top notch talent, especially with remote opportunities being more accessible these days, this is going to continue to be the kind of place that both businesses and individuals seek.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  04:09
Yes, in particular about the remote world and how things are shifting digitally. So what do you think some of your growth is going to come from? Perhaps in some of your under exploited industries, perhaps scientific industries, but other industries that show a lot of strong potential, but perhaps have not been more widely known? Obviously, there’s still a lot to wait and see and there’s a lot of uncertainty. The industry as a whole is looking towards trends to see what that dictates in terms of relocations, or anything else. But what do you think some of your smaller industries or potential growth markets could come from?

Annemarie Henton  04:50
I would say the first one that should be on everybody’s radar, and it’s starting to get out there is our software development tech community. Over the last year couple years we’ve seen tech employers such as Facebook put a data center in our market in the last three years. We also have a number of startups here. One of my favorite companies here is called RS21. They do data analytics, data science, data visualization. So we have everything from the major players such as Facebook all the way up to really innovative startups that are either supporting those technologies as well as advanced manufacturing, directed energy, and aerospace. Also, the growth is from those software development firms that support fintech and medical tech.

We have robust workforce development programs here and coding boot camps. In fact, our community college Central New Mexico Community College I believe was one of the first to launch these coding boot camps, and as a result, here we are years later with with a pretty robust software development talent pipeline.

Annemarie Henton  05:59
I think that specifically is one of the areas where we’re going to see more growth where companies are going to recognize that they can get top notch software development talent in a place like Albuquerque. And then I also think that there are implications for other growing industries we have. So for example, in New Mexico, the film industry is booming. I assume most people know that Netflix put their very first corporately owned studio here within the last two years. Our film industry is just growing gangbusters. And as a result of the talent and the type of work that those professionals produce, it also lends itself to digital and emerging media, such as media arts, video gaming, that kind of thing, which then lends itself to things like serious gaming. Similarly, simulation gaming has implications for military and defense.

Annemarie Henton  07:00
And then aerospace is something that New Mexico is really on the forefront for. So you’re probably hearing a lot about what Tesla’s up to with SpaceX. Virgin Galactic is actually here in New Mexico, and we have Spaceport America located within just an hour or two of the Albuquerque metro area. So we’re starting to see that growth industry, which includes everything from software development, to advanced manufacturing to new technologies, which is a real growth sector for us here. And we have the talent already.

I think the more that these companies see names such as Netflix, Virgin Galactic, Facebook, that kind of thing, we’ll start to hear from companies who are saying, “Wow, Albuquerque!”, what does everyone else know that we don’t know?” So there’s the intrigue and the excitement around the fact that New Mexico’s proving time and time again.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  08:04
Well, you know, even with some of those growth sector that you mentioned, considering the impact that the pandemic has had to a lot of industries, a lot of those sectors you mentioned can essentially operate in the digital remote world. So it seems like it’s putting your region in the position to be able to recover and be more resilient as we’re coming out of this pandemic.

Annemarie Henton  08:28
Definitely. I agree with that. And, you know, most people, if you gravitate to, let’s say, a big city, it’s because you really want that big city lifestyle. It’s fine that I’m living in a small apartment because I can just go downstairs and access all of these things like amazing restaurants and shops and that kind of thing. Well, this pandemic environment has forced people inside to where all of a sudden that 600 square foot apartment gets small pretty quickly, right? So my personal opinion is there’s going to be some trauma from that. I think people are going to want to have space where if we are put back into a remote environment, because we’re forcibly put back, they want to be in a different place where they can have a quality of life in that setting. And if we aren’t forced back into that, I think this pandemic has also proved to many companies who had to change and really quickly get used to the remote environment if they weren’t already playing there.

Annemarie Henton  09:27
I think there’s going to be some interesting data that comes out for companies to where they re-evaluate which pieces of our business can be done remotely and which pieces still need to happen in person. Obviously, that’s going to be different for industries that rely heavily on people being in a space together or on foot traffic from clients coming into the space, but I really think that we’re going to see a shift if it’s not people moving out of big cities, it’s going to be back toward a suburban type of living environment. So I suspect that mid size and smaller cities, such as Albuquerque are absolutely going to be the beneficiaries of that.

In a place like Albuquerque, one of the things I love about it is I have access to all of these big city amenities, but I have no soul crushing commute, which if you’re in a regular environment is less than 25 minutes. I live by the mountains, and to be able to afford a home here is easy. I’ve been homeowner since I was 25 years old here. So there’s a lot of things, quality of life factors that are so attractive to people. 

Annemarie Henton  10:32
I think there’s been a shift from what kind of job do I want, then I have to go to the place where a job exists to now what kind of life do I want, because I can actually get access to those job opportunities remotely in a lot of cases.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  10:46
This quality of life value proposition that so many cities and communities around the country wave as a banner, that definition is quickly changing from prior to this pandemic to what this pandemic has prevailed. Particularly with millennials, they were moving to communities where they could have that traditional sense of quality of life access to amenities and lifestyle choices where they could enjoy that urban lifestyle. Now, what COVID is showing us is that quality of life means something totally different. And, perhaps the data and the trends are going to show us how people start to re-evaluate what that means. Previously, the push was to come into the inner city into the urban core to downtown core, away from the suburbs.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  11:33
As you mentioned, that may swell back into the suburbs and push people further out. So that could have a lot of implications good and bad for a lot of different communities who have always had that quality of life as their banner that they so proudly wave, and then that’s the bad part for them. But the good is for those communities who necessarily could not sell on that type of value proposition now that essentially people seeking to have a better peace of mind, better quality of life, expansion and space and you know everything else, and to be able to do so and work remotely without everything that you mentioned that comes with that typical quality of life. I think that’s where the opportunities come from communities like yours where you’ll see the people start to shift and the companies start to follow them as well.

Annemarie Henton  12:23
Right. And I think it’s important to know, I mean, even as we watch the changing trends and data, I always joke that economic development is like online dating because every one of us has a different checklist, right? So for me, I can’t imagine not living in the southwest in the Mountain West where I’m right next to a mountain because those are the things that matter to me – being able to mountain bike, snowboard, that kind of thing. But then there are other people who are going to  absolutely want to be on the East Coast or want to be near a beach. They don’t really care so much about having houses as they do having access to certain amenities.

So,Albuquerque is certainly not going to be for everyone, but I think that a lot of people are starting to discover this place as a “Why are there not 5 million people here already because the weather is incredible”. We get all four seasons. I’ve lived outside of Albuquerque, and I can tell you, it’s one of the things that I missed the most.

We have a billion dollar arts economy here and more than 300 year history with a lot of cultural and historical pieces that you can feel and everything from the music to the food to the art, to the architecture.  I think now that we’re getting on people’s radar, they’re starting to see what an interesting place this is. So I always talk about Albuquerque being the most interesting midsize city in America.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  13:51
Okay, so let’s shift gears a bit. So where do you think that your organization will perhaps start to rethink what economic development looks like these days, particularly as these kinds of opportunities present themselves?

Annemarie Henton  14:04
Our target as an organization, like I mentioned in the beginning of podcasts is to recruit new employers from outside of the state and then also to help our local economic base companies expand. In a setting such as this pandemic happened in the recession, you know, anytime there is a crisis that occurs in the community that is negatively affecting businesses and employment opportunities. I think all organizations have to do an all around gut check. Okay, here’s what we normally offer, but what do we need to be offering our community right now to make sure that we’re actively participating in keeping this community in a way that makes it as special as it is and what I would call more normal circumstances.

Annemarie Henton  15:21
So for example, ADD almost 20 years ago, we started a business develop program that trained them bout not only running a company, but starting a company, and then how to scale within this state based on the programs and the guidelines and regulations that exists here specifically. And so our team has always been doing this kind of work where we’re out helping existing businesses, but we recognized really quickly early on that,  we’re going to have to mobilize and probably double down on this work.

So more people on what I would call the recruitment side of our team, those of us who tend to spend more time generating leads outside have shifted to make sure that we are helping these local companies access whatever possible program they might need right now either to stay in business, or there’s also the dichotomy of this pandemic has led to some companies growing so quickly because of what they offer and manufacturer, that they need help on that side as well.

Annemarie Henton  16:15
So it’s everything from accessing capital, to connecting with our changing incentive programs daily, you know, a lot of communities, including Albuquerque, are coming up with really innovative programs to try and provide grants to local small businesses, to restaurants to any of those, what I would call special interest industries that are being hugely effective right now. But even over the last 20 years here, we’ve been able to help more than 2,150 companies, just local companies.

Annemarie Henton  17:00
We have a really robust training program and center program here called the Job Training Incentive program. So we’ve helped a lot of companies access that. So for example, just from that one program, one of the companies that ADD as assisted, those awards have provided for over 11,000 jobs with an estimated payroll of over $431 million. So it is imperative that we are constantly thinking about retention, and our own companies, even in the normal course of business, but especially now we have to be helping and preserving what makes our community so special.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  17:39
So retention first at home base – retention of your talent, retention of existing businesses, and then also obviously, recruitment, from other markets of both talent and businesses as well seems to be where your sweet spot and the biggest opportunities are for Albuquerque and your region.

Annemarie Henton  17:59
Definitely. And the talent attraction piece is interesting. So much like companies are starting to hear about Albuquerque and so are professionals across the country looking for this kind of lifestyle.  I’ve increasingly heard from people even personally through LinkedIn over the last 12 months and have seen a major uptick in people saying, I’m really interested in moving to Albuquerque. Can you tell me more? Can you connect me with job opportunities? That kind of thing, which is really exciting.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  18:29
So even when we’re out of this pandemic, we should be seeing a lot more growth from your region.

Annemarie Henton  18:38
Absolutely. I believe that we are in a position not only because of where we’re located geographically, we have a lot of solar and wind. So any companies looking for that better energy footprint, which is basically everybody now. There’s so many things that can’t be described on a piece of paper on a marketing material. You have to be here and experience that to experience what I call that magic. And so I think that’s why tourism numbers are through the roof the last couple years because people are seeing that they come here and then New Mexico gets in their bones, and they can’t get it on it. So many people just end up making their lives here as a result or maybe coming here on vacation or being exposed to this place for something.

I think occasionally we can feel like the underdogs you know, because we’re smaller community, and we should treat these massive metro areas like Phoenix and Denver and Austin, but that has its perks for sure, because a lot of people want to come be a big fish in a small pond, or a lot of people really want to be on the forefront of what’s next. Like, what’s the hot new place. And so I think Albuquerque is pretty prime to attract that kind of investment and those kinds of professionals.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  20:06
Okay, so I have two more questions from a few things, as you mentioned. Does your region tend to attract businesses that are exiting California and looking for new markets, but particularly may not be looking to come too far east, but still stay close enough to the region? Do you tend to get a lot of that?

Annemarie Henton  20:24
Yes, we do. So we spend a lot of time in San Francisco and Los Angeles with companies that are looking for expansion opportunities outside of California.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  20:33
Okay. And since you said film is a big industry in your market, and obviously with all the gaming that can come from that, does your state offer film incentives?

Annemarie Henton  20:45
Yes, we have one of the most celebrated film incentives in the country through the New Mexico Film Office. So if anybody’s interested in what that looks like, you can you can find more information at the New Mexico Film Office website which is nmfilm.com. It’s a 25% tax credit on production in New Mexico.

Another thing that makes New Mexico really special for the film industry is our state topography, the geography. The state is so diverse and incredible. You go south, it looks like a desert. If you’re in the central region, you know, we’re part of the Rocky Mountain chains. There’s been a lot of movies filmed here where they’re using the mountains in Albuquerque as Afghanistan. There’s a lot of productions that can make it look like things are being filmed in multiple locations, when in fact, they’re all being filmed in New Mexico.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  21:41
Yeah, your landscape is very incredible as a backdrop, so I totally agree with that.

Annemarie Henton  21:48
Yeah, so we were lucky to have that magical asset as part of that industry.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  21:52
Good. Well, it’s been a pleasure hearing from you, and thank you for contributing some of your thoughts to the podcast.

Annemarie Henton  21:59
Thank you so much for inviting us and giving Albuquerque a little bit of showcase.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  22:06
Our pleasure. Thanks again for tuning in to the economic development podcast presented by blueprint creative group. There’s more episodes featuring economic development leaders throughout the country. And we thank all of the participants for sharing their perspectives. Check out all of the episodes in this series at blueprintcreativegroup.com/economicdevelopment.

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