Courtesy of the Las Cruces Bulletin, by Richard Coltharp
Can Las Cruces be the hub of an economically booming high-technology center? The Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance attempted to find answers to that question at its Regional Economic Development Forum Thursday, May 17, at the Las Cruces Convention Center.
“If you want to go after high-tech companies, you’ve got to look the part,” said Steve Vierck, president and CEO of the New Mexico Partnership. Based on the comments of Vierck and other economic and technology experts who spoke at the forum, in many ways Las Cruces does look the part. In other ways, however, Las Cruces, as well as New Mexico as a whole, may be lacking.
“We need to think a lot bigger,” said Perry Bendicksen, board chair of New Mexico’s Association of Commerce and Industry, which serves as the state’s chamber of commerce. “We, as a state, have a massive inferiority complex and we need to get over that. We have a lot to offer.”
With more than a half century of high-tech industry in our backyard – at White Sands Missile Range, NASA and Holloman Air Force Base – and two universities long recognized for their expertise in science and engineering (New Mexico State University and the University of Texas at El Paso), this region quickly illustrates One of the popular buzzwords of the day was “collaboration.”
“We hear ‘Beat the Miners,’ ‘Beat the Lobos’ and that sports metaphor has its place,” said Steve Stochaj, an NMSU professor and the chair of the Research and Economic Committee. “But if we work with the (UTEP) Miners, work with the (University of New Mexico) Lobos, work with New Mexico Tech, everybody gets better.”
Another phrase of the day was “quality of life.”
“You can leverage quality of life and cost of living versus sitting on the Beltway for four hours,” said Peter Kane, a vice president of Invertix, which has an engineering center in the Physical Science Laboratory at NMSU, but also has offices near Washington, D.C. The company does defense work, and finds benefits to working in New Mexico.
“It’s a great place to be for the work we’re in,” Kane said. “With the things we do, the remoteness of the desert is a good thing.”
Having that kind of work in the region breeds other success, according to Bryn Davis, operations manager of Sapphire Energy. “So much technology comes from the (department of defense) industry,” Davis said.
With increasing manufacturing happening in Mexico, in close proximity to the New Mexico border, in particular the Santa Teresa Port of Entry, there is opportunity for companies working in various levels of technology.
Brooks Danley, a native Las Crucen, is chief engineer of the Smart Remote Actuator at the Delphi Mexico Technical Center in Juárez. Danley’s company is one of the largest in the world, with revenues of $5.1 billion in North America alone. Its chief work in Mexico is manufacturing automobiles. The Juárez plant will spend more than $500 million on materials in the next year, including more than $13 million on rubber grommets.
“Delphi would like to buy regionally, but it’s not always easy to find,” Danley said. Considering Delphi is just one of nearly two dozen auto manufacturers in Mexico, potential opportunity awaits a company that could, from the southern New Mexico region, make its materials available.
In his presentation on site selection, Vierck showed slides highlighting the strengths of three huge American technology centers: Austin, Texas; Colorado Springs; and Tucson, Ariz. The University of Arizona Tech Park has 43 companies with 7,000 employees, Vierck said.
Austin is consistently rated among the country’s best places to live and work, with a fiercely entrepreneurial spirit, Vierck said. Colorado Springs has creatively targeted tech clusters, Vierck said, including homeland security and defense.
The Las Cruces region doesn’t necessarily have to land huge companies, however. “We have a good opportunity for small- to mid-sized companies,” Vierck said. “That’s our sweet spot as a state.”
Of those things he mentioned with Austin, Colorado Springs and Tucson, the Las Cruces region already has many. NMSU’s Arrowhead Park is nothing but a UofA Tech Park in the making. With Holloman, Fort Bliss and WSMR in the region, defense is already a natural. Quality of life in this region can be positively measured in many ways (one way: average high temperature in January is 58.1 degrees), and has been ranked high by many publications.
Summing up the day, MVEDA board vice chair Kiel Hoffman ran down a list, based on things heard at the forum, of things he believed the Las Cruces region already has going for it. His list included quality of life, clusters (“We already have an aerospace cluster, a space cluster, an ag cluster,” Hoffman said), regional thinking, innovation and partnerships.
“In 10 years, instead of these screens of Austin and Tucson and Colorado Springs, they’ll be looking at screens of Las Cruces,” Hoffman said. “Today, we’ve got a room full of 175 people of Las Cruces who want to continue to grow and get better.”