That $40-milllion bond package brought Intel—still New Mexico's largest private-sector employer—to Sandoval County. However, the county's support of business development did not end there.
In 2003, the county's Business Development Department displayed its own entrepreneurial spirit by securing a U.S. Commerce Department grant to purchase a 3.5-acre parcel of land containing four historically significant buildings in the town of Bernalillo. To date, three of the structures in this complex—now called El Zócalo—have been fully restored, and are supporting the growth and development of small businesses in Sandoval County.
At any given time, more than 50 people are employed by small businesses leasing space in the complex's two-story Salazar Office Building, which also houses the Sandoval County Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Sandoval County Small Business Development Center. Over the years, many businesses that called the Salazar Building home have grown large enough to move to more expansive locations, opening space for new startups.
The county's Business Development Department also is located in the El Zócalo complex, in a building it shares with the Sandoval County Visitor Center. The county Tourism Department operates the Visitor Center. Tourism staff fields more than 100,000 inquires a year from people who walk in or call the center, or contact the staff via one of the department's web or social media channels. The majority of these inquiries are from people in other states seeking information things to see or do in New Mexico. By directing these visitors to attractions in Sandoval County and beyond, the Visitor Center's staff is supporting tourism, the major industry in many smaller New Mexico communities.
Other parts of the El Zócalo complex, including a picturesque outdoor courtyard, are rented out for events ranging from business meetings to weddings and graduation parties. Sandoval County currently is seeking to partner with one or more business development organizations to convert the fourth El Zócalo building into a small business innovation center. The idea is to create a place where budding entrepreneurs can get help in turning their business ideas into successful enterprises.
A Commitment to Creating Jobs
The push for the business innovation center is just one of several recent initiatives that demonstrate the county's ongoing commitment to boosting the local economy. In 2014, the county commission voted to join the City of Rancho and several private-sector groups in providing seed money for a new regional economic development corporation. This organization, the Sandoval Economic Alliance, works to attract new businesses—and expand existing businesses—in all parts of Sandoval County, as well as the surrounding Albuquerque Metropolitan area.
Building an environment to attract new jobs in the healthcare sector is one of the SEA's major focus areas, and that stems from another action taken by the Sandoval County Commission. In 2011, the commission asked the voters of Sandoval County to pass a mill levy that would generate funds to build, and partially operate, two hospitals within the county. Voters approved the levy, and by the end of 2012, the Rust Presbyterian and University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Medical Centers were accepting patients at their respective Rio Rancho facilities.
For the first time, Sandoval County residents could check into a hospital without having to travel to a neighboring county. Many county residents who work in the healthcare industry also were able to find jobs closer to home.
Together, the two hospitals employ close to 1,100 people, at least half of whom are Sandoval County residents. The hospitals' full economic impact to area—including restaurants and other retail establishments that have popped up around them—is in the tens of millions of dollars each year.
County officials expect their continuing efforts around economic development—including support of the Sandoval Economic Alliance—to pay similar dividends far into the future.