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Head of film office picked to lead job creation effort in New Mexico

December 22, 2018

Lights. Camera. Jobs?

Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday picked the head of Albuquerque’s film office to lead her administration’s economic development agency when she takes over the state’s top job Jan. 1.

The appointment of Alicia Keyes — a former Walt Disney Company executive fresh off a deal to bring a Netflix studio to New Mexico’s biggest city — signals the film industry will be a priority for the incoming administration after it proved to be a bright spot during the state’s tough economic times.

But as the state rides an oil and gas boom at the same time it continues to notch one of the country’s highest unemployment rates, diversifying New Mexico’s economy will be one of the incoming governor’s biggest jobs.

And in this era of headline-grabbing contests between governments for the next big Amazon office or Tesla factory, the Lujan Grisham administration will be faced with striking a balance between competing for investments and showing New Mexico’s business incentives are really working.

“I don’t want to chase companies that don’t want to be here,” Keyes said after a news conference at the Capitol on Friday.

For example, Keyes said she would not have personally wanted to launch into the kind of much-publicized contest Amazon just finished for choosing the site of its expansion.

Cities across the country put in bids, falling over each with incentives and gimmicks for a chance at thousands of new jobs connected to the ascendant company.

But Amazon ultimately chose to build its new offices in New York City and the Washington, D.C., area.

Critics likened it all to a rat race.

Keyes said the new administration will focus on public-private partnerships and the Local Economic Development Act, which helps cover the costs of infrastructure for companies to set up shop and is a hit politically on both sides of the aisle as well as with local governments. Keyes also is a backer of lifting the annual $50 million cap on tax incentives for the film industry, which has led to a backlog of more than $180 million in unpaid credits.

Still, deals like the one to bring a Netflix studio to Albuquerque may leave some scratching their heads. While the company is touting as much as $1 billion in production money to the state over the next decade, it still means one of the poorest states in the country is doling out about $10 million in Local Economic Development Act incentives to a company worth billions of dollars.

“It’s a balance. Absolutely,” Keyes told reporters. “I think that Netflix is going to be great for this state. But we always need to look and see what exactly they’re bringing, how many local New Mexicans they’re hiring. And that’s really the key.”

Keyes, 43, said the state will pull together better data about whether its incentives are working — long a point of contention among critics who contend governments have been handing out breaks without getting enough in return for workers.

The Pew Trusts noted in a report last year that New Mexico is trailing other states in evaluating its myriad tax incentives.

“We need to send a message we are competitive but we aren’t going to give everything away without real clear expectations about building an economic foundation in this state,” Lujan Grisham said.

The governor-elect’s platform targeted eight job sectors in particular: cybersecurity, intelligent manufacturing, sustainable industries, bioscience and health, tourism and outdoor industries, digital media and film, sustainable agriculture, and aerospace.

For the film industry in particular, Keyes’ appointment is encouraging.

Outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez had a hot-and-cold relationship with the movie business, backing the cap on tax incentives but touting the industry’s growth in New Mexico.

Eric Witt, executive director of the Santa Fe Film Office, said he was excited by the governor-elect’s pick.

“Hopefully, [the film industry] will get the support it deserves going forward,” he said. “… We need to deal with this cap that’s just hindering growth, and we need to greatly simply the current program.”

The governor-elect’s announcement Friday brought the total members of her Cabinet to nine — six women and three men.

In addition to Keyes, Lujan Grisham tapped Marguerite Salazar, executive director of Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies, as superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Division. The agency oversees everything from liquor licenses and the construction industry to storefront lenders.

The governor-elect also named Ken Ortiz, head of business services at the Secretary of State’s Office, to run the General Services Department. The agency manages the New Mexico government’s offices as well as vehicle fleet and oversees its legal defense when sued in civil court. Formerly head of the Motor Vehicles Division and Department of Workforce Solutions, Ortiz is a veteran of several administrations, Republican and Democratic.

Alicia Keyes

Appointment: Economic Development Department secretary

Current job: Film liasion for the city of Albuquerque

Experience: CEO of AJK Films; executive director of worldwide acquisitions for the Walt Disney Company.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics, politics and philosophy from Claremont McKenna College in California.

Ken Ortiz

Appointment: General Services Department secretary

Current job: Administrator of business services, Secretary of State’s Office

Experience: Chief of staff, Secretary of State’s Office; secretary and deputy secretary of the Department of Workforce Solutions; director of the Motor Vehicle Division; program manager and senior tax auditor at the Taxation and Revenue Department.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration from New Mexico State University.

Marguerite Salazar

Appointment: Superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department

Current job: Executive director of Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies

Experience: Insurance commissioner for the state of Colorado, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Denver, member of the board of the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation and the Colorado State University board of governors.

Education: Undergraduate and master’s degrees in counseling psychology from Adams State (Colo.) University.

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