PUBLISHED: Monday, July 13, 2015 at 12:02 am
By Antonio Sanchez / Rio Rancho Observer Staff Writer
RIO RANCHO – Jami Grindatto had three priorities in his first year as CEO of the Sandoval Economic Alliance: establish the alliance as an organization, build a pipeline of companies and contacts, and help inspire businesses to open shop in Sandoval County.
With July marking the end of the alliance’s first year, Grindatto said 814 jobs have been filled and 667 jobs have been committed since SEA started, saying the alliance “had a hand” in bringing about 75 percent of those jobs to the county.
Grindatto wants to narrow the organization’s business search, marketing toward specific areas in the county.
And it’s going after a really big fish, submitting a proposal last week to General Electric, which has said it is exploring the possibility of moving its headquarters from its current home in Fairfield, Conn.
The Sandoval Economic Alliance began last July, building upon the work of the Rio Rancho Economic Development Corp.
The RREDC voted to transfer all of its assets and intellectual property to SEA before ceasing operations in June.
The alliance began with $200,000 contributions each from Sandoval County and the City of Rio Rancho; a number of luncheons and events have led to $150,000 being raised from the private sector, Grindatto said.
The former Intel regional director of corporate affairs, Grindatto was named SEA’s president and CEO in November, after serving a few months as the organization’s interim president.
Since then, SEA has doubled its staff to six, created a marketing plan with cooperation of the city and county, and set a goal of obtaining 750 jobs per year for the next 10 years for the county.
The alliance oversaw a number of job opportunities throughout its first year, including a retention opportunity with the Convergys contract customer center that will add 250 jobs in Rio Rancho.
Grindatto said SEA’s work to bring S&P Data to Rio Rancho last fall was a highlight of what the alliance can accomplish. S&P announced it would bring 425 jobs to the area.
“We teamed up with Albuquerque Economic Development, and the county and the city, and we’ve really developed a good relationship with organizations,” Grindatto said. “Part of the word alliance means we do reach out, we do work with other organizations, so I think that was a stand-out moment because it showed how we, in a larger metro area, have to team together.”
Looking ahead, Grindatto said SEA will encourage the development of more buildings throughout the county in order to begin attracting more businesses.
“As a community, we need to continue after the recession, we need to start going vertical.
We need to start building buildings that we can house companies in.
That’s going to be the big challenge for the next few years,” he said.
The alliance has established a product development committee that keeps track of available building space and inventory for potential business opportunities.
Grindatto said buildings throughout the county are at a 95 percent occupancy – a county with 85 to 90 percent occupancy is the goal, he said, in order to have 10 percent to showcase for potential businesses.
SEA has also created a rural committee comprising members from Cuba, Algodones, Jemez Pueblo and Santa Ana Pueblo.
Grindatto said the new committee is formulating priorities, including finding a way to leverage the Valles Caldera in the Jemez Mountains for tourist opportunities, finding funding for a bypass road for Jemez Pueblo and identifying renewable energy opportunities.
Grindatto said the alliance will begin to target specific parts of the county this next year.
“We’re trying to district our community into very specific places where certain types of companies will be able to thrive versus being willy-nilly, to a certain extent,” he said. “For example, Unser gateway is great for health care, so we’re going to go after them and, when someone is interested, we’re going to point toward the City Center or Unser gateway as an example of a great location for them to locate.”
Grindatto said his goal for SEA’s second year is to produce one big breakthrough for the county.
“This is my wish for the next 12 months: I want to be able to bring a company here and build a new building. In other words, if we bring in a company and, at the same time, they’re willing to do a build-to-suit, we would build a whole new building,” he said. “If we could accomplish that, that would be a turning point where businesses would start building more.”
Grindatto said SEA reacted quickly to the news that GE might be in the hunt for a new home because of its unhappiness with recent tax increases in Connecticut.
SEA contacted GE at the beginning of June and the company asked for a proposal. Grindatto said SEA worked with the state’s Economic Development Department on the proposal.
Although competition for the company would be intense, with Texas, New York and Indiana also voicing interest, Grindatto said it’s comforting to hear from GE that they are interested in New Mexico.