Don’t Blame the Governor, Local Government and Business Leaders Own the Economic Recovery Alamogordo Town News Special Report A Microcosm of the Nation on Jobs Creation

The economy within Alamogordo, Otero County and New Mexico was damaged by the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 and into the beginning months of 2021. Productivity plunged, new business development, licensing, and recruitment all but stopped and unemployment spiked. Mandated shutdowns, social distancing, and altered consumption patterns has resulted in many businesses adjusting work hours, some closing permanently and several laying off workers, modifying working conditions to include more automation and less need for employees.

Do not blame the governor and those outside of Alamogordo the issue of the thousands of square feet of vacant and not rented retail space began in Alamogordo long before Covid-19. Self-reflection and holding local political leaders accountable are where solutions begin. We can blame the Democrats; Democrats blame the Republicans, but the fact is the ownership of local jobs and education issues and the solutions to each can only come from within Alamogordo and Otero County. Help in the form of Federal Grants and State Grants can assist but first the local political and business machine must own up to creating a roadmap, accept responsibility for past sins, quit blaming others and remedy the issue with a collaborative, solutions driven resolution towards jobs growth and long-term economic prosperity. Call center recruitment is a 20th Century solution that is a failed path to jobs growth. Tourism, specialty retail, arts, culture and fitness that takes advantage of the local features of nature are the key to local prosperity.

Just look at the expanded self-check checkout lines at Lowes Grocery Store, Albertsons, Walmart, and McDonalds. Jobs are not being lost locally due to immigrants taking low wage jobs, jobs are being lost due to automation, a business community that is not adapting to changing retail trends and political leadership that must collaborate with small business owners via incentives, tax rebates, and state and federal block grants.

For Alamogordo and Southern New Mexico to move forward and replace lost jobs and incomes, the region needs small business entrepreneurs to fill the void with business startups of businesses that can capitalize on the local resources, tourism, fitness, arts and culture.

During the economic downturn a decade ago, the business startup rate fell and never fully recovered, which contributed to a slow recovery. Alamogordo had its business peak during the 70’s and has had a slow drain and a lack of consensus among the political leadership and the business community to end the economic drain.

The business community also suffers in recruiting due to the downward spiral of the public school system in rankings. In the 1960’s Alamogordo ranked in the top 10 school systems in the US in achievement pay and rankings. Today Alamogordo High ranks in the bottom 1/3 of US High Schools, no longer offers most vocational educational training programs of the 60’s and 70’s and the poverty rate among students is at a record high. The high school is feeling additional pressure and a loss of students and community support due to the proliferation of religious based private educational institutions that pull students from the public system, offer inconsistent curriculums and compete thus lowering even more the pull of funds available to the public education system and further depressing jobs recruitment of large corporate jobs into the area.

The startup rate of small business growth has trended downward since the 1980s. That is troubling because startups play crucial roles in the local economy and the sales tax base that funds local services. Small business entrepreneurs create the most net new jobs in most communities and Alamogordo would not be unique. They are a key source of innovation because new products and services offerings are often pioneered by new companies. And they challenge dominant firms, which helps to restrain prices and expand consumer choices as witnessed locally by the growth of Walmart and the closure of so many small businesses to include more recently several at the local mall such as Penny’s etc.

This Alamogordo Town News spotlight suggests that state and local policymakers should slash regulatory barriers to startup businesses. The state of New Mexico State should repeal certificate of need requirements, liberalize occupational licensing and restaurant alcohol licensing, liberalize licensing requirements of ex-felons and quick start the business licensing of legalized marijuana and hemp businesses.

The Alamogordo city and county government should collaborate on reducing small business owner property tax rates and provide sales tax holidays to small business owners to encourage business growth, sales, and entrepreneurship. The city should implement online permitting and licensing application for new businesses and make a commitment to turn licenses within 5 business days of application. The cities of Southern New Mexico should also liberalize zoning rules for home‐​based businesses and encourage their growth and that of food trucks and locally crafted arts, crafts, and food items.

US trends that are trickling into New Mexico, Ortero County and Alamogordo.

In recent years in the United States, entrepreneurship and business growth and adaptability have trended downward. An indicator of this is the decline in the startup rate for employer businesses, as calculated from the Census Bureau’s “business dynamics” data.

During the economic downturn that began in 2008 and we clawed out of by 2010, the startup rate for new businesses fell below the shutdown rate for several years. Alamogordo was not immune to that trends and the bounce back has never materialized in Alamogordo’s retail sector as witnessed by the many empty retail storefronts on 10th Street, the New York Avenue District and on the White Sands inner city corridor.

The new business startup rate has not fully recovered from the decline, which is one reason why it has taken many years for the unemployment rate to fall to its pre‐​recession low and is now spiked during Covid with questions of its rebound.  Political leaders and struggling business recruitment like to point blame for unemployment on liberal unemployment compensation, closures mandated by the governor and deflect responsibility locally for the lack of incentivizing business development and lack of commitment to small business entrepreneurship incubation.

Per the CATO Institute, business permitting, and licensing is a challenge for startups in the restaurant industry, which is the largest industry for new businesses aside from professional services. There are about 650,000 restaurants in the United States and about half are not part of chains. Restaurants employ more than 12 million people. In 2020, the industry was hit hard by the pandemic and government‐​mandated shutdowns. A September 2020 survey found that more than 100,000 restaurants may close permanently.

State fees for alcohol licenses range from about $100 to more than $6,000. But there are 18 states that impose on‐​premises license caps, which limit the number of licenses for each municipality generally based on per capita formulas. Such caps create shortages — often severe shortages — with the result that licenses sell on the secondary market for vastly inflated prices, often hundreds of thousands of dollars. The restrictions on hard alcohol licenses are typically more severe than restrictions for beer and wine licenses. In big cities, full liquor licenses can cost up to $250,000 in California, $750,000 in Florida, $400,000 in Indiana, $320,000 in Montana, and $975,000 in New Mexico. If Alamogordo wants to get serious about catering to tourism and creating real jobs it needs to work with the state assembly and the governor on a process to better procure liquor licenses for Southern New Mexico at a more affordable rate. Further collaboration in efforts begin with the City Commission addressing the concerns of liquor license costs and the few numbers available to Southern New Mexico via the assembly and via the state Liquor Control Board. A resolution of concern is a first step and needs to be taken by the mayor and the city commission.

The complexity of permitting, licensing, and zoning rules, and the discretion it gives to officials, makes it a breeding ground for corruption in many municipalities. Corruption is exacerbated by artificial caps that limit the supply of valuable permits and licenses and by slow bureaucracies that incentivize businesses to bribe officials in order to speed approvals.

Corruption favors incumbent and politically connected and existing businesses at the expense of new and independent businesses. One expert noted on marijuana licenses that “A statewide cap tends to benefit well‐​connected and well‐​capitalized applicants such as large publicly traded companies while excluding smaller entrepreneurs and resulting in less choice and availability in the marketplace.” The lessons from alcohol licensing and the abuse seen needs to be noted as the regulations around marijuana are being debated at the state and local levels.

The 2020 pandemic caused the shutdown of many businesses and threw millions of people out of work nationwide and thousands in southern New Mexico. As the economy rebuilds in 2021, it needs startup new businesses especially in services, tourism, fitness and the arts to create jobs and pursue new post‐​pandemic opportunities.

Startup businesses in the arts, fitness and tourist related realms add value to Alamogordo and Southern New Mexico as well as the state and nation.

To speed economic recovery and support long‐​term growth, governments should remove regulatory barriers to startups.

State and local governments should review all occupational licensing rules and regulations and repeal those that fail cost‐​benefit tests. States should accept licenses issued by other states, explore whether licenses can be replaced by private certification, and reduce the costs and time requirements for needed licenses. States and local governments should repeal most licensing boards as they are detrimental to new business growth. The state and local governments should repeal laws around licensing of ex-felons and encourage them to gain full professional employment rather than punitive long term punishment post incarceration.

Bureaucratic processes should be much faster and more transparent, and most licensing should be done online, automated with status updates available online for transparency reasons. It makes no sense that entrepreneurs burn through cash for months on end waiting for government approvals before they can open their businesses. There is no excuse in small towns and cities in New Mexico nor anywhere in the US that business licenses should take more than two weeks to be executed given the real time data that is in front of everyone via the interconnected web of the internet we live in today.

Sources:

“Business Dynamics Statistics,” U.S. Census Bureau, www.census.gov/programs-surveys/bds.html “Federal Policies in Response to Declining Entrepreneurship,” Congressional Budget Office, December 29, 2020. The CBO estimates are based on data from “Business Dynamics Statistics.” The CATO Institute, Elizabeth Weber Handwerker, Peter B. Meyer, Joseph Piacentini, Michael Schultz, and Leo Sveikauskas, “Employment Recovery in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2020. And see Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker, https://tracktherecovery.org

Young School Board Leaders with fresh ideas, making a difference, challenging the status quo…

In the 1960’s, Alamogordo High School ranked in the top 10 in the nation and attracted teachers from around the nation. According to US News and World Report School rankings the school now ranks #40 in New Mexico High Schools and 6754 in national rankings.  In school districts around the nation with problems, youth are stepping into leadership roles within school boards, with fresh ideas and insights and making a difference in challenging the status quo and making change.

Mark Twain once said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” That is the mantra of Anthony X. Vigil the 19-year-old elected school board president of Mesa Vista Consolidated School District in New Mexico. This quote seems to be a similar mantra for several other young people from a diverse spectrum of cultures who are grabbing ahold of American Democracy, and not only participating, but seeking elected office and winning at the level of school board.

There are those in life that complain about the political system and the world around us, and then there are those that do something about it. Age does not determine one’s ability to have a positive impact and to make a difference in the world. One’s ability to go after a goal, and get it done, is what determines success, no matter age or experience.

Photo of Anthony X. Vigil Swearing in to School Board Mesa Vista Consolidated School District in New Mexico. (Photo Courtesy of Mesa Vista Consolidated School District, Alamogordo Town News, 2nd Life Media)

Anthony X. Vigil was a graduate of Mesa Vista High School in 2019, he was elected to the Mesa Vista Consolidated Schools’ Board of Education on November 5, 2019. Anthony ran for the school board to give the students, who are his contemporaries, a voice. He knows that since students are directly impacted by district shortfalls, they may be able to offer valuable outside-the-box solutions. At age 19 he would be one of the youngest elected school board leaders in the nation, and one of the youngest in the nation at age 19 to be named as the school board president.

Anthony X. Vigil appears to be one of several young student activists, turned candidate being elected as representatives of their school system. There is a trend toward student activism and entering politics at a young age. The school board appears to be an excellent entry point for these young citizens to enter the profession of politics.

A trend toward diversity and youth…

Photo of Kelly Gonez (Photo Courtesy Los Angeles Unified School District Alamogordo Town News, 2nd Life Media)

In 2020 the nation’s second largest school system in the US, the Los Angeles Consolidated School system, elected its youngest school board president ever at age 32. Kelly Gonez became the youngest-ever female president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. Gonez, 32, was also the first of the millennial generation and one of only four women of color and one of three Latinas to lead the board that sets policy for the nation’s second-largest school district, which serves a student population that is currently 80% Latino or Black, according to LAUSD officials. Kelly Gonez, 32, is the only parent on the school board with young children, and she grew up in an immigrant family in the district she now represents, encompassing much of the East San Fernando Valley.

But the trend is showing an interest of those even younger getting involved and making a difference

Photo of Bushra Amiwala, the youngest elected Muslim official in the United States. (Courtesy Busha Amiwala twitter Alamogordo Town News, 2nd Life Media)

Meet Bushra Amiwala, she is the youngest elected Muslim officeholder in the United States. Amiwala’s age and status as the youngest elected Muslim official and the only one wearing a hijab in the state of Illinois have brought her fame not normally associated with being elected to a school board. Among the diverse membership of the Skokie School District Board of Education, Bushra Amiwala stands out. She is also a former student in the school district and is featured in a Hulu documentary, “Our America: Women Forward,” which began streaming this March 2021. She is up for re-election to the school board in April 2023 but openly admits she is keeping her eye on other potential offices.

Photo of Ty’Relle Stephens (Photo Courtesy of Channel 10 WJAR Alamogordo Town News, 2nd Life Media)

Out of the ashes of the Rhode Island state takeover of the Providence Public School system, comes a fresh voice. The city’s youngest school board member ever. Meet 20-year-old Ty’Relle Stephens, one of the newest, and the youngest ever Providence School Board member, sworn it at City Hall Wednesday. Stephens started his freshman year at the Juanita Sanchez Education Complex on Thurbers Avenue in South Providence in 2015, getting the lay of the land. Stephens says the voices of the students who have gone through the failed school system are invaluable to fixing what is broken. His plate is full working full-time at Kent Hospital in patient access, and now Providence School Board member, but he is up to the challenge. When asked if he would like to advance in the profession of politics. He leaves that answer to his supporters that believe he has a strong future ahead of him.

Photo of Musab Ali. (Photo Courtesy of NJ.com Alamogordo Town News, 2nd Life Media)

Mussab Ali, 23, became the youngest trustee to ever to named Board of Education President following a 5-2 vote during the board’s reorganization meeting for Jersey City, New Jersey’s Board of Education, earlier this year. He is the youngest trustee and is its new president for 2021. Ali, a law student at Harvard University, won his first year-long term on the school board in 2017 and was later re-elected to three-year term. He is the youngest person ever elected to the nine-member Jersey City school board and the youngest elected official ever in Jersey City. In 2018, Ali was accepted into a prestigious master’s degree program at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The board’s counsel approved Ali’s request to continue serving on the board while studying in China. Ali, a 2015 graduate of McNair Academic, was one of 147 people chosen for the Schwarzman Scholars program at Tsinghua University. He studied biology and economics at Rutgers University-Newark.

And back to New Mexico, where we began this article, we have the youngest school board president in the state and quite possibly the US, Anthony X. Vigil, age 19.  At age 19 he is making an impact on his district in leading it based upon his high school experience. We reached out to Mr. Vigil and asked him about how he got his start in the political process in New Mexico and he responded, “I attended board meetings since I was in middle school and since then I knew I wanted to become a part of the board. Shortly after my first board meeting, I acknowledged my passion to make a real change in society. I always had a strong support system and am compelled to create more opportunities for the generation to follow. The year I graduated was an election year and I didn’t want to waste any time on creating a better tomorrow.”

We mentioned a few of the other young leaders referenced above and asked if he felt participation and leadership by younger adults was becoming a trend and what was the catalyst for that trend? We also asked if he considered himself liberal or conservative in his political leanings. His response, I believe there is a combination of factors leading to the up-tick in the younger generation running for elected positions. I think more and more people are realizing that age is not a barrier and young people offer outside-the-box solutions to world-wide challenges. I am thrilled to see younger people becoming involved in the democratic process. Whereas I am more liberal, I firmly believe educational growth should be a bipartisan consensus. After all, education yields innovation across all industries.”

We would happen to agree with Mr. Vigil wholeheartedly. He is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology at the University of New Mexico. Additionally, Mr. Vigil is an intern with the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Engineering Services Division. Before joining the National Labs, he served as an intern Medical Assistant at Las Clinicas del Norte, a non-profit health center which serves the local community. In high school, he led several student organizations and was a runner for the 2015 and 2016 cross country state championship teams. In 2019, he was part of the state championship medley relay team for track and field.

Under his leadership as the president of the board of education he is championing those issues that are important to the students and partnering with leaders in the state to make that happen. As a former track and field and cross-country athlete he knows that a well-maintained track is critical to a team’s success. As such he and the board have partnered to get capital funds from the state of New Mexico to assist in getting much needed track maintenance done at his former high school. In partnership with New Mexico State Senator Leo Jaramillo, $75,000 in capital outlay funds were secured for a new track and field.

The money comes from Capital Outlay funds. School Board President Anthony Vigil says the track needs repaving, and the field needs new grass. “We will be redoing the track and making those repairs so that way it can be used to host track meets,” Vigil said. Vigil says they hope to have the work completed by the next track season.

Anthony X. Vigil, age 19 of New Mexico; Ty’Relle Stephens, age 20 of Rhode Island; Bushra Amiwala, age 22 of Illinois; Mussab Ali, 23 of New Jersey; Kelly Gonez, age 32 of California each represent true diversity and action.  Each is of a diverse generation of young, aggressive and determined individuals that respect the teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, team activities and active participation in the system of civics. Each represents a diverse collection of ideas from a broad section of our country representing school districts large and small. Through their actions and their rise into political power they demonstrate as a truth, Mark Twain’s quote, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Getting started they have done indeed! We will be watching each of these youthful young adults as their careers move forward over the decades ahead. Inspired we are, in their youthful approach to stepping up, acting and owning the future by offering solutions by their personal actions today.

As we conclude, we wonder, are there any inspired youthful leaders in Southern New Mexico, and more directly in Ortero County or in Alamogordo, ready to take on the challenge and the example set by these youthful leaders? Alamogordo, who is the next generation of leaders ready to step forward today?

Salute’!

Follow Executive Coach and Author, Chris Edwards via the Alamogordo Town News, 2nd Life Media or his Podcast, 2nd Life Media Presents.  Published books by Author Chris Edwards include Coach Bob Sepulveda: The Early Days, 2 Hours Unplugged Unplug and Reconnect, 90 Days to a Glass Half Full Lifestyle, and has published essays on criminal justice reform Removing Barriers to State Occupational Licenses to Enhance Entrepreneurial Job Growth: Out of Prison, Out of Work.

Research for the story above sourced from:

KRQE NEWS, ABC 7 News Los Angeles, Los Angele’s Unified School System, The Hudson County View, www, NJ.com, Baca, Stacey (2021-03-09). “Skokie’s Bushra Amiwala is the youngest Muslim elected official in US”. ABC7 Chicago, Wikipedia, Providence Schools, Mesa Vista Consolidated Schools, Alamogordo Public Schools, US New & World Report