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Key Opportunities along New Mexico’s Southern Border
At the center of one of our state’s many microeconomies, Las Cruces enjoys important advantages. We are located at the intersection of two interstate highways and less than an hour from an international airport. We are home to a major research university and adjacent to well-established aerospace and national defense installations, all engaged in cutting-edge research and innovation. Our region is rich in the energy resources that will power our future: solar, geothermal and wind.
I could go on about the many other favorable aspects of our region, like our productive farmland and beautiful landscape, as well as our public lands that attract visitors from around the world. We hope to preserve the many qualities that make people want to live here: a clean environment and outdoor recreation opportunities, a diverse and welcoming community, and an active cultural and public life.
All of this comes into sharper focus when we consider the challenges provided by a rapidly expanding industrial and transportation sector at our county’s southern doorstep, along the border with México. How we integrate ourselves with this other rapidly expanding microeconomy has critical implications not just for the city of Las Cruces but for the state as a whole.
It’s important to understand something of how the border economy has evolved.
For many decades, México has been building a strong industrial base in Ciudad Juárez and northern Chihuahua. In the process, it has created an experienced workforce and the ability to manage large-scale production facilities in major industries like computer and automotive-parts manufacturing.
Historically, much of this production has been concentrated around the cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, where increasing congestion in rail and highway transport began to cause difficulty in moving products to U.S. markets. This congestion is one of the key reasons Union Pacific decided to build its new $400 million intermodal rail facility in southern New Mexico, near the Santa Teresa border crossing into México.
This investment in rail transport continues a binational pattern of economic activity that has developed over the years, whereby the industrial facilities themselves are located in México, while warehousing, transportation, logistics and financial services are located in the United States. Now much of this United States–based economic activity may be moving to New Mexico. There is also an increasing pace of industrialization in northern Chihuahua, especially in the automotive industry. Both of these factors have led to rapid growth in economic activity along New Mexico’s southern border.
In addition, there exists a real possibility that a Chinese-financed railway will be built from one of México’s Pacific ports to the Santa Teresa crossing in order to avoid the congestion at U.S. Pacific ports. If this happens, there are those who predict that Santa Teresa could become the largest inland port in the United States, with rail access spreading out from southern New Mexico to serve all of North America.
The challenges this kind of rapid growth poses for the city of Las Cruces are considerable. Under the best-case scenario, Las Cruces will have an opportunity to define itself within the region as a prosperous center for education, economic opportunity and quality of life. At the same time Doña Ana County is faced with the enormous challenge of building and managing the infrastructure this kind of growth would entail, struggling to keep up as new support facilities spill out of planned industrial parks to overwhelm the small communities and current roadways that serve the area.
It’s significant that these changes occurring along the border have been driven by forces that, for the most part, are based outside of New Mexico. For that reason, these forces have little relation to traditional New Mexican centers of commerce or political power and may be unaware of, or indifferent to, the effects of this development on our state.
This is why our understanding of the value of interconnected microeconomies is so important, especially for those charged with guiding our state’s future. If properly managed, the expansion of economic activity along the border can be an economic miracle for the entire state, providing an enormous influx of national and international investment at a time when the state as a whole seems mired in economic doldrums.
Like any large-scale opportunity, successful development will require a substantial investment of attention and resources by the state and other public entities. It will also require an understanding that, while the geographical center of this particular opportunity belongs uniquely to southern New Mexico, the entire state will benefit if its microeconomies are effectively nurtured and meshed. This will require a new level of respect for those who actually occupy the border region and an insistence that they, too, benefit from the gains that occur.
In any case, it’s hard to imagine a better opportunity to reinvigorate our state economy, as we allow developments along the border to contribute to a wider and more general prosperity, not just for southern New Mexico but for the state as a whole.
Ken Miyagishima is the mayor of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Las Cruces Approves Urban Agriculture Plan
The importance of innovative food production and processing to regional economic development, including the expansion of employment opportunities, training and education, and ensuring access to healthy food, cannot be overstated. This is particularly true in Doña Ana County, where lack of employment, childhood hunger, access to healthy food and diet-related diseases are at high levels.
Las Cruces, the urban center of Doña Ana County, is now poised to make good use of the area’s rich agricultural, culinary and cultural heritage to become an innovator in urban agriculture. On June 6, the City Council passed a resolution adopting the Las Cruces Urban Agriculture and Food Policy Plan, touted as the first of its kind in New Mexico. La Semilla Food Center and the Urban Agriculture Working Group of the Mesilla Valley Food Policy Council (MVFPC) generated the plan with community input, assistance from the city’s Community Development staff and former City Councilor Nathan Small.
“This plan lays out support and incentives to generate social, health and economic benefits,” said Krysten Aguilar, food planning and policy specialist at La Semilla. “It deals with things like growing and processing food, community gardens and kitchens—everything from seed to table. It’s a great way to build community and create new economic opportunities. Plus, people who garden are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables.”
City money is not yet tied to the plan’s projects, but the plan establishes goals as priorities for city planning. City Councilor Greg Smith said, “I think there are all kinds of innovative ways that this can grow.” The MVFPC will now work with city staff to begin prioritizing and implementing goals for the city, which include educational activities, policies and programs. They will create a community guide to urban agriculture detailing relevant ordinances, necessary permits and other information.
To read the full plan, visit www.las-cruces.org/…/current-proje…/urban-agriculture. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Heirloom Corn Could Make a Comeback in New Mexico
With the popularity of organic and farm-to-table foods, there is a rapidly expanding market for produce grown from heirloom seeds on small farms. Heirloom fruits and vegetables have been making their way out of farmers’ markets and into mainstream grocery stores and restaurants, commanding higher premiums for growers. Buyers, distributors and investors are seeking out local suppliers, as heirloom ingredients are incorporated into “value-added” products.
As a taste for higher-quality tortillas and gourmet Mexican food has spread, Masienda, a California-based company, is building a market in the United States and Europe for corn grown from heirloom landrace seeds on small farms in Mexico. Landrace refers to open-pollinated cultivars that have been carefully selected through seed saving to excel in a specific environment.
This is in contrast with the cheap Yellow No. 2 commodity corn from Monsanto, Pioneer or Dow that most U.S. consumers have grown accustomed to.
The appetite for native maize, which some think could take off the way the popular Andean seed-grain quinoa has, offers hope to small farmers such as those in New Mexico who have been virtually driven out of business by government subsidies for industrial corn and free trade. The market demand could also give some young people an incentive to farm and could save varieties that would otherwise disappear.
Spirulina (and Algae) Have Industry Potential in New Mexico
As we know all too well, New Mexico’s economy has been stumbling along since the Great Recession of 2008. We need to be looking at alternatives beyond business-as-usual models.
New Mexico is in the top three nationally in large-scale algae production. Commercially grown algae have a variety of uses, including for energy and food. Spirulina algae microfarming could become an important part of this type of agriculture in the state.
Spirulina is considered a “super-food,” as it provides a concentrated source of protein (approximately 65 percent), antioxidants, vitamins and other nutrients. The United Nations, with the aid of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have, with great success, been utilizing spirulina to fight malnutrition worldwide for the last 30 years. About 15 years ago, France established a cottage industry around small-scale spirulina farms, which vary in size from 250 square feet to 7,500 square feet. At that time, there were about half a dozen farms. That number is now nearing 200, and the initiative is spreading to neighboring countries, creating livelihoods and good-paying jobs.
Folks may scoff at the idea of spirulina algae farms in a desert climate. Extreme water use! Actually, the opposite is true. Spirulina is grown in greenhouses to minimize evaporation. Consider this: 277 gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of protein from spirulina; that same pound of protein from soybeans takes 1,188 gallons of water; and 1,650 gallons are required for corn. To cultivate spirulina, large, fertile parcels of land are not needed. Any relatively flat surface with access to water and electricity will do.
The model that has been successfully demonstrated in France could be replicated here with a few tweaks for our local needs. This could be one viable step in helping New Mexico increase its food security and diversify its economy.
NMSU Plans High-Tech Industrial Hub
Funded by a $488,000 grant from the U.S. Commerce Department, New Mexico State University has completed a new master plan to develop a high-tech industrial hub on its campus in Las Cruces. The plan includes three industry clusters in healthcare, aerospace and digital media at the Arrowhead Research Park, 175 acres between Interstates 10 and 25. Groundbreaking is planned for this summer for a $15 million, 64,000-square-foot building that will house NMSU’s technology transfer and entrepreneurship programs, plus startup companies and established businesses that want to co-locate there. It is expected to open in mid-2017.
A 39,000-square-foot, privately owned, three-building office center is currently housed on the site. General Dynamics, a communications technology company, and the U.S. Geological Service are located there, as well as two early-college high schools—one focused on science, technology, engineering and math; and the other on medical training. Additionally, the private Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine will open an 80,000-square-foot building at the park in August.
Arrowhead will also pursue an aerospace-industry cluster to take advantage of the university’s expertise in that area and the park’s proximity to Spaceport America and the White Sands Missile Range. NMSU hopes its digital media programs—animation, virtual reality, game development, computer science and big data management—will attract the film industry and create a partnership with the City of Las Cruces on a film studio.
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