Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Business leaders have their say on what to expect from a new city council

LAS CRUCES – Candidates from across the ideological spectrum are campaigning for voters to vote them for the seat on Las Cruces City Council on November 2nd. If elected, some say they will focus on creating more jobs in Las Cruces, making the city more friendly to businesses, or making sure workers are paid more.

Economic development dominates the local conversation in every election cycle. In the 2019 mayoral elections, it was a central topic of discussion for the candidates and a driving factor in the recruitment of City Director Ifo Pili in 2020.

The city’s economic strategy is often twisted by prominent entrepreneurs.

With the council ready to welcome at least two new members, possibly three, by January this year, Sun News asked some business leaders and business stakeholders in the community what policies they would propose to the council.

“Anyone who just promises jobs and wages, growth with no specific guidelines should beware,” said Jim Peach, an economist and professor emeritus from New Mexico State University.

Debbi Moore, who heads the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, an organization that represents the interests of hundreds of Las Cruces businesses, said she has made a habit of liaising with city councils on a regular basis about current owners’ challenges to convey.

Debbi Moore, President and CEO of the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, speaks at a panel discussion during the Las Cruces Days Legislative Brunch on Sunday, January 26, 2020, in Santa Fe.

“My responsibility as President and CEO of the Chamber is to work diligently with those elected to educate them about the power of economic development and business development in our community,” said Moore.

Recently, Moore said she heard that some local restaurants are still experiencing labor shortages, which has resulted in reduced hours of operation.

“I think the key role in addressing the challenges businesses face … both in terms of the city council and the city’s human resources management is that we must all be on the same page and work cooperatively to get tools in to provide their toolbox to be able to. (to use) within a minute, “said Moore.

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Moore said going forward the council must keep in mind that companies are still concerned about the impact of the pandemic and many do not know what the month-to-month economic conditions will look like.

“These challenges are always changing,” said Moore. “In my 30-year career, I’ve never seen anything like it… We all have to be flexible, just like companies are flexible. So a lot of what we’re seeing is some kind of company trying to figure out where you’re going to take the next step, but they don’t know what the next step is. “

Carrie Hamblen, a state senator who also heads the Las Cruces green chamber of commerce, also said she would like to see the council continue to support aid to businesses still affected by the pandemic.

“We’re not out of the woods yet on the pandemic and will see long-term effects in our local businesses,” Hamblen said in an email to Sun News. “We need to consider helping companies adapt to rising wages for workers, upgrade their equipment, and help them change their business plans to prepare for future disasters.”

Las Cruces city councils and executives should look elsewhere for ideas that have implemented revitalization and growth strategies, Peach said.

“One thing a city council can do is look into other areas that have been successful,” Peach said.

According to Peach, amenities like parks, entertainment, professional sports teams, and bike lanes draw people to an area, which in turn leads to more businesses and more jobs. The city council’s ability to select projects on loan issues, comment and approve the city’s budget, and forge public-private partnerships can all be economic drivers.

Peach also thinks that cooperation with the state government is often overlooked.

“The state government in New Mexico has all kinds of programs,” Peach said. “Working closely … and having good relationships with the people in the state is really important. And it’s not a sexy campaign topic, but it’s an integral part of the development process.”

Eli Guzman is a local business owner who ran for city council in 2015 but lost to Kasandra Gandara in District 1. Guzman owns Guzman Sport Karate and Kickboxing in Las Cruces.

Like so many others, Guzman’s Dojo was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said closings resulted in a 45 percent loss of his usual business. As businesses seek to recover, Guzman councilors should consider cutting the tax burden and focusing their energies on making starting a new business in the city as easy as possible.

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“It’s not easy to start a business,” said Guzman. “It takes a lot of manpower … Starting a business is not cheap.”

The city council seats in districts 3, 5 and 6 are up for election on November 2nd.

Michael McDevitt is the city and county government reporter for Sun News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, [email protected] or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.

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