The ten candidates for Las Cruces Mayor recently met for a televised forum at KRWG Public Media.
They addressed the contention by some in the community that the city needs to be more business-friendly.
In her second run for Mayor, Gina Ortega is talking a lot about being business-friendly. Her business, La Fiesta Bakery, closed during the ongoing state road construction project on Valley Drive. But Ortega also says the city needs to address its own regulations. She claims wading through red tape directly affected her bakery.
“We are not business-friendly. When we opened La Fiesta Bakery, it took us almost two years. Too much red tape. Too much bureaucracy,” said Ortega.
Candidate Mike Tellez agrees, saying the permitting process in Las Cruces needs an overhaul.
“We definitely need to get our permitting process in place to where, developers when they come here, they don’t go through the frustration of getting a permit and going through that process,” said Tellez.
Former Mayor Bill Mattiace says, the city needs to take a comprehensive approach and also set benchmarks based on cities that are doing better financially.
“The big thing that a city must do to be business-friendly is actually to be a business leader. In other words, we probably need to make our process simpler…less restrictions, less regulations. And then look at the neighboring cities in the neighboring states and benchmark. If they’re getting more businesses in their states, and creating more jobs, maybe we should do the same,” said Mattiace.
Other candidates mentioned seeking assistance from other entities in the effort to build a business-friendly community, including Dona Ana County commissioner Isabella Solis.
“For small businesses, I think we need to work with the Small Business Development Center and the Chamber of Commerce, to connect those together. I think a lot of times, we don’t build those relationships. And I think building those relationships with those entities would also be beneficial to grow our business here in Las Cruces,” said Solis.
Alexander Paige Baca Fresquez agrees that seeking partnerships is a key way to enhance the city’s business environment.
“I believe we need to continue to partner with local entities like WESST, that provides women entrepreneurs with loans so that they can start to create businesses here for themselves and support their families,” said Baca Fresquez.
The other candidates for Mayor say the city should target specific industries. Jesusita Dolores Lucero served on the city council…and she’s making a second run for Mayor. Lucero noted the city is attracting lots of retirees, so she says there should be an effort to attract more healthcare services.
“And so we need to bring more medical services, because that’s why seniors are here. And we’ll need those into the future,” said Lucero.
Healthcare is high-paying service job…but many other jobs in service industries are not. Jorge Sanchez emphasized the need for manufacturing jobs…once the ticket to many more people looking for good pay here and elsewhere.
“What we need to do is we need to get…by business-friendly, bring more factories and more into the industrial part of Las Cruces, where it’s more family-supporting jobs, instead of just making the downtown look good,” said Sanchez.
Current Mayor Ken Miyagishima says the city is working to attract high tech employment, citing the need to make sure the area has more opportunities for local college grads.
“We are focusing on aerospace. In fact, NASA I-Tech was just here a few days ago. Look at Virgin Galactic, Electronic Caregiver, Gannymede Games. PSL-NMSU is looking to expand. So, we’re really focusing on aerospace right now,” said Miyagishima.
City councilor Greg Smith also talked about the need to diversify the city’s economy.
“One of the current issues we hear about frequently is young people looking elsewhere to find their careers. We want to be sure that Las Cruces is their first choice if they’re from here or they’ve come here for NMSU,” said Smith.
A final issue mentioned in the forum has been central to the ongoing discussion of the city’s business climate. The minimum wage. The city council approved an increase in the minimum wage in response to a petition…but delayed that petition’s timeline…raising the wage to its current 10.10 an hour, which was implemented in January. Despite the delay, candidate Bev Courtney says the city’s minimum wage has hurt some businesses.
“It especially hurts the food industry. Those starter jobs. Because they take in beginning workers, and they actually train workers. They’re good at workforce development. They already have a high overhead. So, the minimum wage hurt them the most,” said Courtney.
At $10.10 an hour, even with mandated hikes based on price increases, the city’s minimum wage may never catch up to inflation. Right now, it’s about two dollars behind. The minimum wage was at its highest buying power in 1968, when it was $1.60. Had it been increased according to the Consumer Price Index, it would be $12.04 an hour. Workers across New Mexico will continue to see increases in the state minimum wage. The legislature approved yearly increases that will take the state minimum to $9.00/hour in January and eventually $12.00/hour in January, 2023.
Watch the entire Mayoral forum below: