Rio Rancho Observer
By Antonio Sanchez
Wrapping up its first year as an organization and focused on attracting new business ventures to the area, the Sandoval Economic Alliance revealed Tuesday that’s it’s taking a shot at luring a corporate giant to Sandoval County.
The alliance will submit a proposal by the end of the week to Connecticut-based General Electric to consider moving its corporate headquarters here, SEA President and CEO Jami Grindatto said.
According to an email obtained by The National Review last month, GE has “assembled an exploratory team to look into the company’s options to relocate HQ to another state with a more pro-business environment.” The move by GE is in response to higher taxes approved by Connecticut’s governor in the state’s recent $40 billion budget.
Grindatto said SEA reacted quickly to that news, contacting GE at the beginning of June. He said the electric company responded back within the same week, asking for a proposal.
Since GE’s response, Grindatto said SEA has worked alongside the state’s Economic Development Department on the proposal.
Although competition for the company is 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.
“I think we have a quality of life that many other metro areas do not provide, and that goes all the way from the weather to public safety, the quality of the Rio Rancho public school system,” Grindatto said. “The governor and the Legislature have reduced tax rates, the corporate income tax is down, we have a very good business climate.”
SEA’s first year
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 wants to narrow the organization’s business search, marketing toward specific areas in the county.
The Sandoval Economic Alliance began last July, building upon the work of the Rio Rancho Economic Development Corporation. 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 during SEA’s first year, 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 internal 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.
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.
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 for 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 to the area.
“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.
One take-away from the new committee, Grindatto said, is that 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 comprised of 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 to target companies 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 healthcare 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.”