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Monday, July 16, 2012

Susana's Ghost Town Turns Out Haunted, Plus: ABQ As Ghost Town; Comments Continue, Also: Three TV Debates Set For Senate Contest 

It's been a long, hot and often tortuous summer for the politicians and those charged with economic development for the state. The announcement of nearly 500 layoffs at three different businesses slammed the ABQ metro in one week, there is continued worry over the future of federal funding for New Mexico and now comes word that a $1 billion "Ghost Town" project for SE NM--so highly touted just two months ago by Governor Martinez--turns out to be haunted by financial demons. The news:

The company behind plans to build a scientific ghost town says it is pulling out of a deal to develop the make-believe city near Hobbs. Pegasus Global Holdings in May announced with much fanfare its selection of a 15-square mile site in Hobbs and Lea County near the Texas border for development of the Center for Innovation, Technology and Testing...Robert Brumley, managing director of the project...said the group was pulling out "due to some very complicated and unforeseen issues with acquiring the land." The deal involved both public and private parcels..."We are still very committed to locating in New Mexico if a site can be identified," Brumley said....

The collapse of the ghost town deal was a pointed lesson for Governor Martinez. This economy is shakier than cafeteria jello and any jobs announcement has risk as well as rewards. The only consolation in this downer is that Lea County has been absolutely booming because of high oil prices and other development.

ECON EMBARRASSMENT

There's also a bit of an embarrassment for the administration to go along with the ghost town bust. The state's economic development director--Jon Barela--was s prime player in Cerelink, the Corrales-based tech company that was partnering with Hollywood. It has gone bust and left behind a stack of bills, including one for nearly a million dollars for use of the state's super computer.

YET ANOTHER HEADACHE

And there is more headache inducing news for the Guv when it comes to her top aides. Chief of Staff Keith Gardner is being dragged into the courts by trial attorney and possible '14 Dem Guv candidate Sam Bregman:

Martinez’s chief of staff must testify at a wrongful termination hearing requested by parole officer Larry Flynn, who was fired last year after police investigated him for shooting a gun outside his home on the state penitentiary grounds south of Santa Fe. Flynn, who at the time of his dismissal was living with then-Corrections Secretary Lupe Martinez, claims his firing was illegal because the Governor’s Office improperly got involved in a personnel action against a classified state employee...The governor’s lawyer had invoked executive privilege in trying to quash subpoenas of chief of staff Keith Gardner and other top administration officials...

With 19 months under their belts and Big Bill receding into the mists of history, the Martinez administration now fully owns what happens around here. That means the good the bad and the ugly...

GHOST TOWN TALK

There is impatience about the often woeful economic news that Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico continue to digest. Reader Keith Miller, who describes himself as an independent, is one of many who have written in since we blogged last week of a visit to the city by financial analyst Joe Duarte. His subsequent report labeled ABQ an economic "ghost town" (Hey, that's supposed to be in Hobbs, isn't it?). Anyway, here's Miller's take on the current biz and jobs scene:

No one wants to admit that there is nothing going in ABQ for fear that they will be targeted by local governments, whether city, county or state as being negative. I had great hopes that Gov. Martinez would bring a new era but this hasn’t happened and it is not because the Dems oppose her. It is because she owes people that created her campaign and they have no interest in this state except to export oil and gas...

Around Texas, where she has much support, these counties seem to be thriving. Hobbs has over 40,000 population and no one can find a place to live! Las Cruces is growing and much is being done for Dona Ana County…while the areas north have been left for naught. She has chased what she knows, “crime” but has not shown an inclination for business...

Again this is not an R or D problem, it is a competency problem, very similar to the national one we face. If we are in such a fever to educate our youth and then have nothing for them to do once educated, why will they stay in New Mexico? I am an independent that typically will vote R for local stuff as I believe they are fiscally conscious. At this point I believe that “unconscious” is the correct adjective.

BANISH THE GHOSTS!

The ABQ as ghost town meme hit a nerve with Bernalillo County officials. They came with this:

Bernalillo County’s economic development team is hard at work, partnering with the private sector on several projects that will create nearly 1,000 new jobs. The county is supporting projects that will create 340 construction jobs and 659 permanent jobs on four projects. Recent success stories include a new warehouse for Admiral Beverage Corp.; a new facility for Friedman Recycling; and the Oxbow Family Apartments, a major residential construction project. The Lowe’s customer support center will create an estimated 600 jobs. County staff worked in partnership with city and state officials to support this project. The county is also sponsoring a job fair on Tuesday...

The Lowe's call center jobs will come on line over the next year and half or so. And it's true that there is some job creating going on, but we are bleeding more jobs than we are adding. That's why the announcement of nearly 500 jobs lost in one week hit home so hard.'

GHOSTS PAST AND FUTURE

Here's another insightful take on what's happening around here from Republican and veteran businessman and investor Paul Donisthorpe, brother of La Politica pollster Bruce Donisthorpe:

I was frankly surprised at New Mexico's standing at tied for 36th in the places for doing business category...moving up from 43rd a year ago. But before we wrench our shoulders trying to pat ourselves on the back, our 46th and 47th ranking in education and business friendliness, respectively, is terrible and by themselves will doom us to mediocrity into the future.

Every single state in our region outranks New Mexico. Texas, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming are in the top 10...All in our region, save us, are in the top 25...As a state we need to find a way to get out of the mindset that "...improving means not falling behind.." as a recent newspaper editorial put it.

While lamenting the loss of incentive monies spent on trendy new businesses now shuttered and the loss of call center jobs due to economic factors totally out of our control, we see the headline where revenues for the state will be up $250 million over previous expectations due to "robust oil prices and production, primarily in southeastern New Mexico." Duh!

Of course, everyone in government will be clamoring for their piece of it ... never mind that oil prices have fallen 20% or so since...fasten your seatbelts.

SENATE ACTION

We're going to have TV debates in the US Senate race that could really make a difference. Heather Wilson's campaign came with the dates for three TV face-offs between her and and Dem rival Martin Heinrich. All three will come in October and well before Election Day Nov. 6.

The KRQE debate will be held Thursday, October 11, 2012 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the KRQE studio. The KOAT-Albuquerque Journal debate will be held Sunday, October 21, 2012 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the KOAT-7 studios and the KOB debate will be held Thursday, October 25, 2012 from 7 to 8 p.m. at a public venue to be determined.

These debates will come in time for the legions of early voters to be influenced. Heinrich's camp says the campaigns are working on a fourth face-off for the Las Cruces area media market that would be held sometime in October on KFOX-TV.

So far there has not been one joint appearance--televised or nontelevised--between Heinrich and Wilson since they were both nominated June 5. The race is being controlled by huge campaign war chests--from both the candidates and out-of-state interest groups--used for a parade of TV ads. Since she is running behind in the polls, three TV chances to do damage to Heinrich is good news for Wilson, but Heinrich needs to get better known personally by the voters. The debates will give him that chance.

The TV stations seem to have risen to the occasion. Two of the debates are on weeknights and in prime time.

According to the latest finance reports, the candidates have about the same amount of cash in their bank accounts and both are being supported with those big out of state dollars. Wilson reports raising $1.6 million in the last quarter (April through June). Heinrich raised $1.4 million. He has $1.8 million in cash. Wilson has $1.6 million. As for out-of-state interest group support, a polling group said Wilson has thus far received more support in third party TV ad spending.

Wilson continues to describe the race as a "dead heat" but Heinrich's polling lead is in the four point range. That's within the margin of error for many polls and a close contest, but not a dead heat. For us, a dead heat is when the candidates are tied or separated by only one polling point.

POSTSCRIPT

We ran into ABQ Dem congressional candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham Saturday night at the New Mexico Jazz Workshop "Women's Voices" concert at the ABQ museum. She had some good news about debates in her contest with Republican Janice Arnold-Jones, telling us that the campaigns are near final agreement on taking part in three TV debates. As in the Senate contest, joint appearances are few--if any--in the congressional contest. The TV debates would fill a large gap in voter knowledge.

Meanwhile, in the money chase in the ABQ congressional derby, Michelle says in the early going she is blowing Janice out of the water. Federal reports were made public over the weekend and her campaign says:

Lujan Grisham raised more than $459,000 during the last three months (April-June). The campaign raised $353,232.04 since the last reporting period in mid-May, nearly a 5-to-1 advantage over her general election opponent. The campaign has $203,606.70 cash on hand, a nearly 3-to-1 advantage over her opponent...

That Janice does not have even $100,000 in cash at this point speaks to the tepid support her candidacy has been greeted with in her own party, a point we blogged about earlier this month. She raised $113,000 for the quarter and reports only $78,000 in cash on hand.

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