I am convinced that New Mexico’s future is hiding in plain sight.
It is a future with unlimited potential built on our unique qualities as a state and our strengths as a people. The keys to achieving that future are bold ideas and strong leadership.
Here’s what I see when I look at our state’s future:
A state with unmatched quality of life. The land, the sky, the climate, dark nights and clear days are New Mexico’s gift. For that reason, our future should be based on this goal: We will be the most sustainable state in the country. We will make sustainability our test for energy policy, water use, land use, how we invest in transportation and the way we cherish our resources. Embracing sustainability means that we will continue to take pride in New Mexico’s uniqueness and that we will preserve and protect it for future generations. In the future, we will proudly live here—and others will come to visit us here—because of the wise decisions we will have made in the service of sustainability.
A state with unsurpassed human talent. The people of New Mexico are our real resource, the wellspring of our future, the foundation of the decisions we make and the opportunities we create. And the people of New Mexico are infused with the heart of the West; New Mexicans were raised in the spirit of Western independence and have lived by the practice of Western interdependence. The greatest investment we can make for our future is to invest in our people. Our goal: We will invest in our children and our workers to give them the tools they need to create our future. There is no doubt that early education for every New Mexico child is the smartest investment we can make. We should lead the nation in making early-childhood education the birthright of every New Mexican. And because we live in a knowledge economy, we need to continue that investment all the way through higher education, making sure to include in the mix vocational education and workforce preparation and training.
A state that attacks poverty relentlessly. The scourge of New Mexico is the poverty that afflicts too many of our people. In this we are not unique, but where we can be unique is in our determination to do something about it: to attack poverty and, by attacking poverty, change the lives of our citizens and their families forever. Here again, common sense and experience tell us what must be done. Our goal: go after the roots of poverty, and build a comprehensive strategy to produce real change in the lives of New Mexicans. Raise the minimum wage. Put a cap on pay-day lending. Offer individual savings accounts, children’s savings accounts and emergency financial accounts to New Mexicans as a way to build real wealth in our families and teach financial skills.
A state that has the most sustainable, most diversified economic base of any state in the country. As President Bill Clinton once observed, “A good job is the best possible social program.” Right now, New Mexico is lacking in both jobs and social programs. As we attack poverty, invest in people, improve education, preserve and protect our heritage, we can also build and grow our economic opportunities. Our goal: to grow New Mexico jobs based on New Mexico’s strengths.
That means stopping doing things we know don’t work. We won’t create opportunities in the future by trying to be cheaper than Texas or dirtier than Arizona. We have to stop trying to “bribe” large out-of-state companies to come here; instead, we have to start investing in the grassroots economic opportunities that we alone have in New Mexico. If we do that, we create a future that is true to our history, culture, values and traditions and, at the same time, capable of carrying us into the future with more opportunities for more New Mexicans.
What are those categories of economic opportunity?
Energy—because we have so much of it, especially the energy sources of the future: solar, wind and geothermal.
Water—because we have so little of it, we should be the headquarters of water-management technology, water planning and water conservation.
Tourism—because we will be maintaining New Mexico’s unspoiled environment and New Mexico’s cultural heritage, giving us a unique opportunity to promote ecotourism, cultural tourism and historical tourism, as well as recreational experiences.
Small and medium-sized businesses—because they are the backbone of our economy and because they make New Mexico unique and separate us from the homogenized, big-box-store, all-the-same look of other places that have killed off their home-grown businesses.
Entrepreneurship and innovation—because we have creative people who have always invented things, devised things, built things, made things their own way.
Trade—because it’s time, especially with México, which is itself experiencing a boom in entrepreneurship.
Agriculture—because it’s another New Mexico tradition, only now we can grow and raise value-added farm products that we can also brand as “Made in New Mexico.”
These microeconomies—and more—are not only the unique endowments of New Mexico; they are also components of a unique strategy that we can create by weaving them, leveraging them and combining them in ways that no other state can replicate, duplicate, beg, borrow or steal. Built as they are on the values, history, culture and traits of our state, they will keep faith with the past while carrying us into the future.
All of this can be done. All of this is waiting to be done. All of this is what we can do, if we do it working together.
It is a future that, at the moment, we cannot see because we have chosen not to look at it.
But it is a future that is hiding in plain sight, waiting for us to discover it.
Alan Webber, founder of One New Mexico, is an entrepreneur and author and ran as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor of New Mexico in 2014. www.onenewmexico.com