By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post
Candidates for New Mexico House Dist. 43, incumbent Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard and challenger Republican Sharon Stover, spoke on economic development at the Oct. 25 Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast.
In her opening statement, Garcia Richard pointed to her sponsorship of HB-139 (Local Economic Development Act Projects), which was signed into law in February.
“Los Alamos is now eligible of $25,000 in state economic development funds,” Garcia Richard said, adding that this is an increase of $15,000.
Garcia Richard said she worked with the Los Alamos County Council in the crafting of the bill.
“This is a real win for Los Alamos,” she said.
“I’m married to a small business owner, and I know the struggles small business owners face,” Garcia Richard said.
Stover said growing up in her family’s restaurant business in the Espanola Valley, educated her in the struggles New Mexico small businesses must overcome. While serving as president of the New Mexico Association of Counties during 2015-16, Stover said she was made aware of the struggles of small businesses around the state.
Stover pointed to three things she believes would promote economic development in New Mexico:
- tax reform
- streamlining government practices
- giving teachers more autonomy.
Asked about protecting economic development amid budget cuts, Stover said, “we need an overall economic vision … we need to look at what we’re getting for our buck.”
Garcia Richard answered that we need to “wean ourselves off the boom and bust cycle of oil and gas” through diversification of the New Mexico economy. She said research and development spin-offs from the national laboratories, the film industry and exploiting renewable energy resources provide good opportunities for diversification.
“We need an ecosystem to support tech transfer,” Garcia Richard said. “We need to grow and develop one strong company … we can be the Silicon Valley of tech transfer.”
Garcia Richard said one new idea she is exploring to help support small business is allowing businesses to band together in health insurance pools to reduce costs. She hopes to bring this idea to the legislature if she is reelected.
Stover said the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park in New Mexico needs to be aggressively marketed. Improvement to area roads also is needed to promote the new Park.
“We need development based on what is needed in each county,” Stover said. “Needs are different in different parts of the District.”
Stover also stressed the importance of tech transfer to the economy. “We need to figure out how to keep the companies we have,” as well as attracting new ones, she said.
The candidates next addressed the workforce shortage in New Mexico, which exists in the face of New Mexico having the highest unemployment rate in the region. Stover said affordable housing and better transportation solutions would help solve the problem.
Garcia Richard said workers must be trained for “the jobs that exist now.” Support for community college programs that help fill existing needs is important, she said.
When addressing workforce preparedness, Garcia Richard said schools were underfunded and teachers overburdened. She said investing in pre-K education could have huge payoffs for the state down the line.
Stover pointed out that, “44-48 percent of our state budget is spent on education, but we are still ranked at the bottom.” We need to give teachers more autonomy and look at what other states and other countries are doing, she said.
In summing up, Garcia Richard said New Mexico is perceived as a state unfriendly to business. She pointed to the state One-Stop Business Portal project, which is easing the burden of new businesses in getting through the red tape of state regulations as a step in the right direction.
“The states around us are beating us,” Stover said. “We need to find the best practices.” Tax reform also is necessary, Stover said. People in state government are too isolated from each other and not working things out together, she said.