For decades the Taos economy has been based on tourism. The history, natural beauty, cultural treasures and the arts were enough to draw visitors to the area. They spent money at our galleries, restaurants and hotels.
We will always have a tourist oriented economy because we are blessed with so many assets. But in recent years tourism has been stagnant at best. We must take steps to reinvigorate this critical part of our economy. The Plaza needs to be cleaned up. Empty store fronts need to be filled. Sidewalks need to be repaired. The Sign Ordinance needs to be enforced.
Stated simply, we must make the downtown area more visually appealing. These are short term steps that will provide additional low skill, low wage jobs. It is not a long term strategy that will lead to a fundamentally more robust economy.
Longer term, if the Taos economy is to become more vibrant we must diversify, become less dependent on tourism. The new runway at the airport and the upgrades at the Taos Ski Valley may boost tourism a bit, but they cannot be counted on for sustained economic growth.
There has been a lot of lip service about the need to diversify our economy. At the Town of Taos level there has been no effort to pursue that diversification.
There is not a single staff person in Taos whose sole job is to spur economic development and diversify the economy. There is not a department or staff that coordinates the various efforts that relate to our economic growth. An Economic Development Plan for Taos was completed in 2013. It has been sitting on the shelf for four years, it’s recommendations largely ignored.
What are the economic sectors with the greatest potential for growth in Taos? Information technology and health care jump to mind.
Health care has great potential since Taos has an aging population. We can expect more baby boomers to retire here or have second homes here. Their health care needs will grow. More doctors, nurses and dentists will be needed. Home health care will be in increasing demand. These are high skill, high wage jobs.
The availability of a high speed fiber optic network in Taos creates an opportunity to attract high tech businesses. Technology companies have the luxury of choosing locations based on an appealing lifestyle. We have a compelling lifestyle story that must be communicated to the tech community. Having a presence at events such as South By Southwest is a must.
Having a more diverse economy is also key to retaining our youth. They may choose to leave home to get more education, or to develop better job skills. But many of them will come back to Taos if good paying jobs are available. With the fiber optic network some of our youth could return to Taos and work remotely for a larger company. We must aim higher for them than changing sheets or waiting tables.
As our economy rebounds we will also need more skilled trades people. Electricians, plumbers, cabinet makers and carpenters will be in demand. These positions pay a living wage. We must make sure training is available to enable our youth to move into these positions.
As Mayor I will lead the Council in pursuing the following opportunities:
· Hire an Economic Development Director and create an Economic Development Department that has its primary focus to diversify the economy;
· Require the Economic Development Director to provide monthly reports to the Council on relevant activities and contacts;
· Partner with UNM Taos to assure the training is available for the kinds of jobs being created;
· Develop an Enterprise Fund supported by private donations and investors to help local start ups move to the next level.
· Put Taos on the map with the high tech community as a great place to locate a small business;
· Explore ways to support and grow successful local businesses such as Vapor Cosmetics and Taos Mountain Energy Bars;
· Determine the feasibility of creating a Regional Economic Development organization that encompasses the entire Enchanted Circle; and
· Create a more transparent, predictable, business friendly development and regulatory process;
· Engage with the Taos Entrepreneurial Network to support local start ups;
· Engage with the New Mexico Film Commission to determine how Taos can leverage its assets to become more attractive to the film industry;
· Adopt incentives to promote the growth of the local solar energy industry.