After only two months in office, New Mexico’s new governor is shaking things up and making history in the process.
On January 1, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham was sworn into office as the first Latina Democratic governor in U.S. history. The election’s historical significance was also noteworthy because it was the first time in state history a woman — former (Republican) Governor Susana Martinez — passed the baton to another woman.
A 12th-generation New Mexican, Lujan Grisham has spent much of her career advocating for families, senior citizens and veterans, and working to make health care accessible. In her inauguration speech she credited her late father, Buddy Lujan, with teaching her the importance of caring for those in need. He ran a discount dental office out of his garage for low-income New Mexicans.
Lujan Grisham says she will be focused on helping to make sure every child and family has everything they need to be successful.
“It’s also time we act with urgency to increase investments in our local rural communities, particularly when addressing infrastructure,” she tells Site Selection. “Improvements must be made to our water systems, our dams, our school buildings and broadband internet. Transforming infrastructure will not only help address these critical needs but also help leverage economic development in those often-forgotten communities.
The following are excerpts of our exchange with Gov. Lujan Grisham.
SS: What are some of the biggest advantages for businesses located in New Mexico?
Grisham: I think businesses can sometimes underestimate the opportunities we have here. One of those is the affordability for new ventures. Land, for both businesses and employees, is priced relatively low compared to other states. Not only that, but the housing and cost of living is also very competitive. We have a terrific workforce of talented young adults who want to stay here but need additional opportunity — it’s one reason I am committed to investing in small business in my administration, in training and workforce development programs.
Our tax rates are reasonable. I want to diversify our economic suite. We invite all businesses to discover the rich renewable energy resources New Mexico has to offer — there’s tremendous opportunity here to be part of the transformation that will take place as New Mexico becomes the nation’s clean energy leader. My administration is committed to utilizing this source, not only to reduce harmful emissions in the threat of climate change, but to also grow our economy. A push for an increased Renewable Portfolio Standard will boost investment in both wind and solar, where we know New Mexico can be a national leader. This industry can attract major new employers and of course create good jobs and careers for New Mexicans.
I am proud to already be taking action on this front: I announced the introduction of legislation to raise our renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040, and increasingly bold legislation is still to come, setting New Mexico on a path to improved capacity and delivery. I’ve joined the U.S. Climate Alliance through executive order, holding our state to the Paris agreement even as the federal government continues to fail us. States can and will lead. A methane mitigation rule is also in development, which will deliver additional revenue and jobs as we stop wasting and leaking methane and instead begin recapturing it.
SS: You’re pressing for an increase in teacher salaries and universal preschools. Why is this a critical issue for New Mexico?
Grisham: For years now, New Mexico’s education system has been starved, and raising teacher salaries is the first step to truly paying educators what they’re worth. We have to show that we value our education professionals, not just say so. It’s crucial to both compensate teachers for their important work and be able to attract and retain talented educators. New Mexico has hundreds of teacher vacancies across the state that I intend to fill, and raising those salaries is an important aspect to attracting and retaining them.
Education is the foundation of opportunity and has the potential to be the great equalizer for children from all backgrounds. The research is very clear: Children who attend preschool are far better prepared than those who don’t, and we should make that a reality for every child. That’s why I’m committed to every three- and four-year old in New Mexico having access to Pre-K. Not only is it an essential investment in our children, it’s a smart investment in our state’s future.
SS: Netflix recently moved into its new Albuquerque studio and has some promising figures for its business in New Mexico over the next decade. Can you tell us what some of these innovative media companies find when they do business in your state?
Grisham: Our crew base is the greatest in the country. We have talented professionals all over the state who can populate a production and get it done on time and on budget. Our ability to continue to attract productions speaks to the capacity and quality of our crews. We also have tremendous facilities, as demonstrated by Netflix’s purchase, both in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and I expect more world-class facilities to be built as we attract more film and television work in coming years.
Another item I’d be remiss not to mention is the stunning outdoor beauty of our state. Productions come here not merely to film Westerns, but New Mexico is, for all intents and purposes, what people think of when they think about the West, because of our appearances on both the big and small screen. What I want media companies to know about the future is that New Mexico will no longer get in its own way. By that I mean that in the past, we have had a state administration that sought to hamstring the film industry through a restrictive “cap” on rebate payouts and other bureaucratic malaise. Just last week I was proud to announce the introduction of Senate Bill 2, which will eliminate that cap and streamline our credit system. We are open for business, and we’re acting like it.
SS: What would you say is the single most important economic development advantage New Mexico has to offer?
Grisham: Our advantages are myriad, but one item to highlight would be our willingness and eagerness to collaborate. Under my administration, we will work with the prevailing momentum of economic development, not against it. As the country and world turn to clean energy, we will embrace our destiny as a leader in this area, and our state agencies will facilitate growth by working with developers and entrepreneurs up and down the spectrum. As media companies grow, we will reach out and proactively partner with them, as was the case with Netflix, and as will be the case with more companies to be announced soon. We will explore the exciting digital media space, whether it’s video game development, as recently announced in Las Cruces, post-production or virtual reality. Whether it’s cybersecurity or aerospace or value-added agriculture, New Mexico wants to work with you. It’s the foundation of sustained growth, this proactive attitude, and I’m excited to be in a position where we can follow through on our aspirations.
Savannah King is managing editor of custom content for Conway Inc. She is an award-winning journalist and previously wrote for The Times in Gainesville, Ga. She graduated from the University of West Florida with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and lives near Atlanta.