UNM’s Frank steps up with economic vision, specifics
Small policy bandages, clichés, vision and specifics appeared at a recent gathering of commercial real estate developers in Albuquerque. Jon Barela, the state’s economic development secretary, brought the bandages and clichés. Robert Frank, the new president of the University of New Mexico, brought the rest.
Barela began with an old nugget. “We stand at the juncture between two roads,” he said. The roads are the status quo and the new century.
Keeping our kids here is Barela’s objective, a nice sounding irrelevancy. Homage to Gov. Susana Martinez started with her promise to balance the budget, a task required by the state Constitution.
The dropping unemployment rate is good, and “Las Cruces is fine,” Barela said. The lower unemployment rate reflects people leaving the labor force and, these days, has nothing to do with the immediate health of the economy, one way or the other. As to Las Cruces, it lost 1,500 jobs, year-over-year, according to the most recent unemployment report.
The bandages were seven mostly good proposals to tinker with the status quo but with nothing toward the needed restructuring, rethinking and dealing with institutional matters. See www.capitolreportnm.blogspot.com for the list of proposals.
“Truly challenged” is how UNM President Bob Frank described the state. Then, in passing, he said we have set our own limitations. To even mention this idea is unusual. We have all heard it, though: “New Mexico is a poor state, etc., etc., and therefore we cannot do A or B or C.”
Surfacing the notion of self-fulfilling limits got my attention. Frank then set a high bar for himself and the university. “We need to have radically new ideas and a new paradigm,” he said.
Frank moved to specifics, again something unusual in our public dialogue. Some of the specifics, Frank noted, though important, are “not novel,” another unusual recognition of the obvious. Others appear radical. Despite a career following the New Mexico economy and reading cliché-ridden economic reports, I got excited.
An idea that seems both totally obvious and radical is to work with Sandia National Laboratories on retention (Frank didn’t explain retention to what) and re-employment of people departing the lab. Frank should add Los Alamos National Laboratory to the list.
Crowds of baby boomers have been leaving the labs for years. They represent an enormous talent pool.
All this is in a report, “Expanding UNM’s Role in Economic Development.” The ideas come from talking to “thought leaders,” intense design sessions called charrettes” and a conference. To set the scene, the report says, “Economic development is about acting to ensure that the economy of a community or region grows faster than the population.”
“Not-novel” proposals include public-private partnerships and working with organizations including Albuquerque Economic Development, Sandia and the commonly forgotten Air Force Research Laboratory.
Frank wants to increase the number of companies coming from UNM’s STC (which used to mean Science and Technology Corporation) from around eight each year to 12 and then 16.
The Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology drew favorable commentary as a model for a New Mexico entity to support innovation and develop businesses.
A low-tech incubator would encourage innovation in businesses that are not science and technology based. Tourism, consulting and health services would be among the areas for attention. “Employer engagement” is the fancy name for systemically helping employers deal with the bureaucratic thicket of UNM.
Most amazing of all is that the ideas and objectives are generally stated with specifics and numbers — metrics in the jargon.
Frank and UNM have stepped up, as they say in sports. The vacuum at president-less New Mexico State University can only help UNM.