Albuquerque Business First
The Sandoval Economic Alliance might seem like it’s been working on economic development in Rio Rancho and Sandoval County for years, but actually it was only 18 months ago that president and CEO Jami Grindatto and his team got started with a goal of creating 1,000 jobs a year for the next 10 years. By that measure, 2015 was a success, with a net gain of 1,075 jobs. But the work of an economic developer is never done. Grindatto, a former Intel executive, spoke with Business First about the opportunities and challenges the Alliance faces as it does the work of helping grow the Sandoval County economy.
How does someone become a director of economic development? I grew up in Switzerland and came to the U.S. to play basketball at Grand Canyon College. I married my wife and we moved to New Mexico, where I went to UNM and studied computer engineering. I got my first glimmer of economic development from my wife’s dad, who was president of the American Economic Development Association. Out of school, a friend and I built a small business that focused on computer rendering for the labs and software for robotics and automation. That led to a contract with Intel, which led to an offer from Intel. I started there in 1984. I migrated from one role to the next in my career at Intel, from engineering to consulting, to corporate affairs director, to workforce education and talent development. So the skillets of consultation, strategic thinking, marketing to talent — all of those experiences have led me to where I am today.
Most people who reach a level of success in business have had some key mentors. Have you? There were a lot. Some that stood out were the dean of the computer engineering school at UNM, Dolores Etter. She was a very forward thinker interested in pushing the envelope. Another was my first boss at Intel, Jim Sanborn. He always had the perspective that if you need to change the system in order to accomplish a goal, you should do it.
Are there particular challenges that stand out as you look ahead to the next year for Sandoval Economic Alliance? Economic development is fairly simple. You have to market and sell and be persistent. But then you have to look at the yields of those efforts. One of our challenges is the availability of commercial real estate, and the preparedness of some of our parcels for economic development. Our inventory is aging and mostly occupied, and what’s left is not great. Bankers aren’t funding speculative building. So we have to identify the availability of investors who are willing to put capital at risk for something like this, and we also have to deal with the expectations of companies. They want short-term leases, three to five years, and build-to-suit. No developer wants to do that under a short lease. So commercial real estate and all of those issues are a challenge.
How do you overcome that? At its core, economic development is all about attraction, retention and expansion. Sometimes your existing companies are not aware that economic incentives apply to them, so you need public relations and marketing to raise that awareness. In fact we’re starting a class this week on just that. That helps your retention and expansion. But when it comes to attraction, economic developers sell a product. The product is our community, and all the components of that community — real estate, incentives, quality of life, the workforce, a metro area that’s ripe for growth. If any one of those components is not competitive, it can affect your results. Commercial real estate is one of those components that we have to somehow fix.
How would you characterize this moment in time for economic development in Sandoval County? At the threshold of big things. Rio Rancho is an urban area surrounded by villages like Corrales and the town of Bernalillo, with a quality of life that resonates with entrepreneurs and younger businesses and an infrastructure that can attract some really nice companies. That will consolidate our economic base, which will draw the retail side, which will generate revenue for the city and county that allows us to make further improvements to the infrastructure. It’s finding that tipping point so this whole mechanism starts moving in a positive direction.
Title: President and CEO, Sandoval Economic Alliance
Address: 1201 Rio Rancho Blvd. Suite C, Rio Rancho
Family: Wife Connie (married 30 years); kids Missy, 25, Lucas, 23, Joshua, 21
Education: University of New Mexico, BS, computer engineering
Hometown: Rüte, Switzerland
Hobbies: 20 horses, 20 (or so) chickens, five dogs, three goats, one cat and one chinchilla, all on the small family farm in Corrales