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Without question, the repercussions and restrictions stemming from the lockdown, while many would argue are necessary, have been a gut punch to the already less-than- shimmering New Mexico economy. Even though 2020 saw state revenues from oil and natural gas reach upwards of $2.8 billion, relying on such finite resources in a world that is steadily shifting away from them, is a long-term death sentence. The year 2020 also brought with it a struggle for small businesses, many of which had to shut down or alter their business model in order to comply with strict health regulations, just to remain open. How does one not just come back from this but thrive beyond it? That, among other things, is what the University of New Mexico’s Rainforest Innovations, a UNM nonprofit with a mission to nurture economic development through innovation, set out to uncover in their third annual Business and Economic Summit held on Tuesday, Jan 12.  

The summit, which this year was centered around the idea of growing New Mexico’s economy while fostering innovation, invited top minds and major stakeholders from public, private and nonprofit sectors to join in the dialog and identify possible solutions. “Our small businesses have been hurt. Our larger businesses are struggling. Businesses are closing, and I think everyone is trying to find ways to recover in as short of a time as possible,” said Lisa Kuuttila, CEO of UNM Rainforest Innovations, in an interview with KOB-TV.

Driving that discussion was a report published by the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce titled “Driving New Mexico’s Future: Empowering a Competitive Economy in a Post-Pandemic World. The report, which highlights ways that New Mexico can take a strategic approach in enhancing our competitive position to attract new opportunities, highlighted 15 critical factors that site selection consultants consider in their area surveys. These factors include Highway Accessibility, Availability of Skilled Labor, State and Local Incentives and Quality of Life, just to name a few. Building off of this information, the summit saw virtual breakout rooms addressing various topics such as increasing the pool of skilled workers in New Mexico and extending opportunities to underserved communities. Additional panels, such as the one moderated by Richard Anklam, president of New Mexico Tax Research Institute, discussed how to make New Mexico’s regulatory environment among the most business friendly in America. Other breakout sessions addressed topics such as putting an emphasis on emerging opportunities by prioritizing education and entrepreneurship.

This year’s summit, being a purely online affair, was free and open to the public to join. Organizers saw an increase in the number of attendees this year, which they attribute to the impacts of COVID. While businesses are still looking for help, many have made the switch to e-commerce in an attempt to make ends meet. In her interview on KOB-TV, Lisa Kuuttila went on to say that the “most important thing–how do we work together? How do we align the interest of government, business and higher education to solve some of these problems.” Let’s hope they figure that out before next year’s summit.