Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Las Cruces Mayoral Candidates Spar at Tech Debate
Contributing writer Stephen Jones checks in with more on-the-ground coverage from Southern New Mexico.
All four Las Cruces mayoral candidates faced off at a public forum sponsored by the High Tech Consortium of Southern New Mexico (HTC) on Wednesday morning at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum auditorium. The candidates responded to questions related to bringing high tech jobs into New Mexico's second largest city. Wednesday's event featured Mayor Ken Miyagishima and his three challengers, Las Cruces City Councillor Dolores Connor, community activist Michael Fleming. It was the first event in which all four of the candidates participated on the same stage.
The four candidates stressed the proximity of New Mexico State University, White Sands Missile Base and the Spaceport USA as potential engines of new business growth in the tech sector for Las Cruces. "Every year we see more and more businesses that are looking at Las Cruces" as a potential place to locate, Mayor Miyagishima said, "Once the Spaceport is up and running, we are looking at a $500 million dollar economic boom per year," he said.
"There's so much research wealth here in our County," Dolores Connor said. "You're going to hear a lot about the Spaceport and White Sands Missile Range. I have been a supporter of the Spaceport since day one and continue to be," she said. Connor also pointed to White Sands, NASA and the area testing facilities as engines of business growth. "People from all over the world travel here to work with those facilities. It is our opportunity to engage those businesses and work with them to make them a part of our community," she said. Connor also talked about the importance of working with secondary schools in building bridge programs in science education.
Michael Ray Huerta said the city needed to do more to address quality of life issues to get and keep good paying technical jobs. He pointed to Austin, Texas as the model he would try to emulate in that regard. "The Brookings Institute came out with a study that said diversity of human capital is the key indicator of whether or not cities can maintain a workforce," Huerta said. "What does that mean for Las Cruces?" he asked. "We've done a lot in the last few years to address the quality of life for retirees and seniors," he said, "but what we need to do to retain people in high tech business, is to address their quality of life." Huerta singled out development of the arts and entertainment, music and outdoor recreation as areas that needed to be addressed.
Michael Fleming concurred that the City needed to partner with NMSU and the aerospace facilities. "We need to strengthen education, especially at the lower grades, so that they have the three 'R's' down and can successfully complete their college educations," Fleming added.
Addressing the expansion of solar and broadband in Las Cruces, each of the candidates agreed more needed to be done in the City. However, Miyagishima pointed out that once solar facilities are completed they do not leave behind large workforces. Connor agreed, adding that the private sector needed to do more, particularly in the area of broadband. "We simply don't have the public dollars to address the deficiency," she said. Huerta said more could be done to educate the public on the use of internet technologies to generate greater demand from the private sector in building out broadband in Las Cruces.
Connor called for a lower tax rate and reform of the State Goods and Services Tax to help drive economic development. She said she strongly supported Governor Susana Martinez's efforts to reform the tax. Mayor Miyagishima pointed out that, under his administration, he had built "a healthy business environment," and noted that the City had "twice the financial reserves" that are required by the state, putting the city of firm economic ground. He noted that, through the direction of the current administration, Las Cruces has not overbuilt speculative housing, and has avoided many of the economic problems of its competitors.
While Miyagishima pointed to good planning as an engine of future job growth, Connor said that it was the private sector that needed to create the jobs. "Once we've built the streets and sewers, we've done our job," she said. In one late exchange between the candidates, Huerta called on the Mayor and City Council to slash their own salaries. Huerta said that -- in real terms -- there was a 15% unemployment rate in the city. "It's time the Mayor and City Council make some sacrifices, too," he said.
As each of the candidates pointed out, Las Cruces has a weak-mayor form of government. While the Mayor holds a key vote on the seven-member City Council, that individual has no administrative duties, but does set the agenda for the Council. Las Cruces has a full-time City Manager who reports to the full City Council.
The Las Cruces municipal election will be held on Tuesday, November 8, 2011. In addition to the Mayoral race, three City Council seats and the Municipal Judge contest will be decided in the 2011 municipal election.
HTC, which sponsored the forum, is headquartered in Las Cruces. It is a non-profit membership organization made up of tech-oriented individuals, small business owners, corporate leaders and educators that has come together to promote a positive business atmosphere conducive to growing the high-tech sector in southern New Mexico.
Photos by Stephen Jones. Click images for larger versions. To see more posts by Stephen, visit our archive.
Thanks for the coverage on the debate and for this blog's many stories about stuff going on in southern NM. There is so much going on down here and very little coverage by the media.
Posted by: Al | Sep 30, 2011 10:34:32 AM