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Innovate ABQ Creating Synergy with City

Albuquerque, NM – March 18, 2014 The Innovate ABQ project to create a research and innovation district in downtown Albuquerque is spurring an expansion of complementary educational programs and business activity from the City of Albuquerque and many of UNM’s public and private community partners. To read more about the City’s latest plans, see Kevin Robinson-Avila’s March 17th article, “New Strategy for Progress,” from the Albuquerque Journal’s Business Outlook section, reprinted below.

New strategy for progress

A groundswell is building in Albuquerque that could turn Central Avenue from Downtown to Nob Hill into a bustling center for research, innovation and new businesses.

Much of it is bubbling up around the Innovate ABQ initiative and companion projects, which aim to establish a high-tech research district that starts in the heart of Downtown and emanates east and west along Central Avenue.

But at its foundation is a novel economic development strategy — led by the city in cooperation with academic and business leaders — that squarely focuses on inspiring individual and private-sector innovation as the basis for growing Albuquerque’s economy, rather than continue its historical dependence on government investment.

The goal is to forge public-private partnerships and programs that help build entrepreneurial skills and know-how among Albuquerque’s workforce and investors, providing them with the technical assistance, business training and resource support needed to create homegrown companies that grow and thrive.

“For the first time in a long time, there is an urgency and bipartisan understanding that we must diversify our economy and not keep all our eggs in one basket with federal dependency,” Mayor Richard Berry said.

“We want to build an entrepreneurial spirit here from the bottom up, starting with youth in middle school and high school and spreading from there to include the entire community. We need to start thinking much more from the private-sector standpoint about how to create our own opportunities to grow.”

Division of duties

The city continues to work on luring new companies to Albuquerque from elsewhere — such as continuing efforts to convince Tesla Motors to establish a massive battery factory here that could bring some 6,500 jobs — and to retain existing companies in the state.

But it’s largely leaving those efforts to the nonprofit Albuquerque Economic Development organization, which is under contract with the city to recruit businesses from other places.

That leaves the city’s Economic Development Department to concentrate more on workforce development and homegrown business creation, said Gary Oppedahl, Albuquerque’s new economic development director, who took office in early December.

“We want to build an environment here where entrepreneurs are enabled, facilitated and encouraged to create jobs,” said Oppedahl, who along with the mayor spoke to the Journal in an interview.

“We want to make Albuquerque the most entrepreneurial city in the country. Recruitment and retention of businesses remain important, but the third leg of the stool is ‘grow your own.'”

Berry chose Oppedahl to lead that effort because of his stellar reputation as a serial entrepreneur with 30 years of management and executive experience in creating and growing private companies.

Oppedahl spent more than a decade, from 1984-1996, as an engineering manager at Intel Corp., helping that company build its facilities in Albuquerque and Ireland.

Since then, he has held top executive positions in four high-tech startup companies in Albuquerque and the Silicon Valley in California. And in 2005, he started a local health-care company, TBAB Health Care Services, which today generates nearly $7 million in annual revenue.

Building partnerships

Oppedahl and the mayor are now building partnerships with local schools, the universities and private-sector organizations to provide hands-on training programs that inspire people to either start their own businesses or develop the skills they need to get good-paying jobs in today’s modern, tech-based economy. Through workforce development, the city can create the talent pool needed for businesses to grow here, Oppedahl said.

The latest initiatives include:

An agreement with Central New Mexico Community College to open a new educational center in the Galeria building at First Plaza Downtown, where it will offer accelerated programs to rapidly train workers in skills needed by local businesses. It will provide special courses to help aspiring entrepreneurs launch companies, plus fully equipped labs for them to prototype and test new products and services.

Mission Graduate, a communitywide effort spearheaded by United Way of Central New Mexico and supported by local businesses, to produce 60,000 higher-education graduates by 2020.

My Life My Business, an entrepreneurial program for high-school students that began this year at Amy Biehl High School and will later spread to more schools. The program brings local entrepreneurs into the classroom to talk with students, and it offers them site visits to companies to inspire entrepreneurial passion among youth.

Talent ABQ, an initiative to encourage skills-based hiring by businesses rather than selection based on educational degrees. The program offers free skills testing for workers at 26 centers around the city, followed by online training to improve their abilities in targeted areas.

The city is also developing a new “business accelerator” program to train and mentor entrepreneurs to turn great ideas into solid business plans.

Tech research district

The city’s efforts are directly connected to the broader strategy of building a high-tech research district Downtown that acts as a catalyst for innovation, startup development and expanding commercial activity.

That includes the Innovate ABQ initiative at Central and Broadway, plus other emerging projects connected to it, such as CNM’s new Downtown learning center and a new information technology incubator that private developers plan to open in April at the old Albuquerque High School complex.

“The concept started with Innovate ABQ, but like the ‘big bang theory,’ we’re creating the conditions for it to expand and explode up and down Central,” Oppedahl said.

The city has worked closely with UNM since fall 2012 to help develop the university’s Innovate ABQ initiative, but it’s now taking a leading role in building an “innovation network” that unites the public and private sectors around the broader development strategy, said UNM Chief Economic Development Officer Lisa Kuuttila.

“The city has embraced a long-term vision for economic development that should be applauded,” she said.

Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Terri Cole said the planets finally are lining up for revitalizing Downtown and beyond.

“We have the right leadership at the right time and place to move this forward,” Cole told the Journal. “The pieces are all falling into place to make this successful.”

Source: Albuquerque Journal

For more information, contact:

Kevin Robinson-Avila