ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - On August 27, 2014, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) delivered the keynote address at the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce's Congressional Delegation Luncheon Series. His speech focused on high-quality education and job training opportunities being key components to building a more prosperous New Mexico and becoming a more competitive destination for new businesses.
Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.
Thank you, Del, for that kind introduction.
It’s great to be here in Albuquerque with you this afternoon. Especially at this time of year, when two words are literally always on the tip of your tongue: green chile.
Thank you to the entire Albuquerque Chamber for inviting me to speak today.
I’d also like to acknowledge the support of the luncheon sponsors, special guests, and for everyone involved in putting on this event, including the hotel staff.
The last time I was here to speak with you was last year. However, I see many of you in this room throughout the year to exchange ideas. I always appreciate your input and look forward to
our conversation today.
These forums are platforms for collaboration and an opportunity for us to consider how together we can continue to grow New Mexico’s economy and make our state a great place to raise a family and open a business.
One of the best parts of serving in the U.S. Senate is being able to meet people from every corner of our large and diverse state.
I spent the day in Santa Fe yesterday discussing everything from water management, to visiting a new VA outpatient clinic, to touring the Institute of American Indian Arts. And later today I’m going to the CNM STEMulus Center, an education and training center offering students the opportunity to gain valuable skills to compete in a global economy.
Earlier this month, I was in Artesia, Carlsbad, and Hobbs speaking with small business owners,energy producers and visiting one of our state’s National Wildlife Refuges.
When I talk with folks about what matters most to them, I hear again and again that the most important issues – across the state – are jobs and the economy.
That’s certainly my priority in the Senate.
While we’ve seen signs of recovery nationally, I don’t have to tell you that the economic picture in New Mexico remains incredibly challenging.
Yes, we have seen some positive signs. The unemployment rate is now at its lowest point since September of 2008. New Mexico’s unemployment rate has dropped from its high of 8 percent in 2010 to 6.6 percent today.
Financial services, and education and health care have all seen growth in the last year.
But all of you know that doesn’t tell the whole story.
In the last year, the number of jobs in New Mexico has grown by only 0.3 percent.
Let me put that another way: Job growth in our state in the last year has been well below one percentage point.
The state’s manufacturing payroll has shrunk. Construction payroll is down. Federal government payroll is down.
Housing prices in New Mexico are inching up at 1.6 percent. But the national rate is 6.6 percent. And the rental vacancy rate in our state is about five percentage points higher than the national rate.
Year-to-date, the number of permits for single-family homes is down compared to last year, and the number of permits for multifamily homes is down by double digits -- about 41 percent.
It is critical for New Mexico to look for opportunities to expand the private sector and to seriously consider how best we can diversify our economy.
All signs are that federal spending will remain tightly constrained in the coming years, so solutions to what ails our economy will have to be generated here at home. We all have to work together to develop a cohesive and collaborative vision of what we want our state to be.
I would love to see a collective vision that attracts and spurs private sector job growth in technology and manufacturing. And that more effectively promotes our base jobs in the film industry, the arts, culture and that makes the most of the incredible outdoor treasures our state has to offer.
And we’re going to have to think seriously and strategically about how we’re going to get there.
As the only Engineer in the Senate, I believe that our capacity to deal with the challenges that we face rests heavily on our ability to make policy that is informed by facts and data.
In New Mexico, we have built our economy around some of the greatest scientific innovations of the modern era.
New Mexico Tech, the University of New Mexico, and New Mexico State University offered advanced degrees in chemistry and engineering as early as the 1890’s.
After World War I, Kirtland, Holloman and Cannon military bases in our state provided supreme training conditions for the new flight wing of the Army that would eventually be called the United States Air Force.
During World War II, New Mexico was home to the Manhattan Project, which installed Los Alamos National Labs, White Sands Missile Range, and Sandia National Laboratories.
Through the collaboration of its major defense and research installations, our state became the birthplace of technologies that have changed the world.
Whether it’s leading in commercial space industry or tackling climate change, it’s important that we continue to encourage the kind of innovation New Mexico is known for.
Which is why I’m advocating for the Advanced Photonics Manufacturing Consortium based here in Albuquerque to be one of the President’s new federal high-tech manufacturing hubs.
Optics and photonics technologies are used in robotics, medical imaging, next-generation displays, defense, biometric security and many other fields.
The potential for advanced photonics is enormous and the United States is well positioned to capture both the strategic military value of photonics and the economic benefits of a growing industry.
The business community, along with the scientific and military community, have already begun to reap the benefits of advanced photonics in New Mexico, and increased investment will only see the dividends provided to the country increase as a result.
It’s also why I have fought so hard to keep the Operationally Responsive Space program at Kirtland Air Force Base alive. Like photonics, Operationally Responsive Space represents a forward-thinking mission that leverages the unique strengths of Kirtland’s talented workforce.
Together with my colleague Senator Udall, I will always work to protect the vital funding and missions of our military installations and national labs.
New Mexico is also an epicenter of America’s energy economy. As a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, I’m supporting several proposals to help expand both traditional and renewable domestic energy production in our state.
One of those proposals is the BLM Permit Processing Improvement Act – a bill I’m cosponsoring that was introduced by Senator Udall. The bill would ensure the Bureau of Land Management has the staff it needs to manage development of oil and natural gas resources on federal lands.
It would continue streamlining the oil and gas drilling permit process while strengthening a review system that helps meet important environmental and safety standards.
This program has a proven track record of success in Farmington and Carlsbad, and it demonstrates our commitment to investing in New Mexico's energy future.
Increased collaboration among federal agencies and business is another way to help expand domestic energy production and boost job creation.
The SunZia Southwest Transmission Line Project is a powerful example of this. SunZia will connect and deliver electricity generated in New Mexico to demand in Arizona and California.
In May, I welcomed a resolution – some of you may be familiar with -- that was reached to allow for the unparalleled military testing at White Sands Missile Range and this transformational clean energy infrastructure project to exist in harmony.
The agreement allows SunZia to invest private resources in the construction of a transmission line that will deliver renewable energy to hungry markets in the West.
The SunZia transmission line will unlock our state's renewable resources by allowing ranchers and other property owners to develop wind and solar energy on their land.
SunZia's private investors will invest between 1 and 2 billion dollars into the state economies of New Mexico and Arizona. Doing so, according to a study by New Mexico State University and the University of Arizona, will thousands of private sector jobs in our state.
And this isn't just about SunZia: this is about New Mexico choosing to diversify our economy, lessen our dependence on federal dollars, and chart a course for a more prosperous future.
Other investors looking at transmission infrastructure have been following this process closely to see if our state will take a leadership position in this emerging economy or if their dollars are better invested elsewhere.
Now that we’ve seized the opportunity with SunZia – we must continue to capitalize on other transmission opportunities that will allow us to make the most of our state’s rich renewable resources and to put our state’s ailing construction sector back to work.
But if we truly want to create a climate in New Mexico that attracts businesses, innovators, investors, and entrepreneurs, we need to better equip our students to compete for the jobs of the future--especially in the areas of math and science.
A new study by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program found that nationally, job postings for science, technology, engineering or math remain unfilled for more than twice as long as all other types of jobs.
The postings stay open longer because we are not graduating or training enough students with the STEM backgrounds to fill these jobs. We need to change that.
I’ve been looking at ways to provide additional funding for core curriculum and afterschool STEM programing while strengthening state, local, and community partnerships in these fields.
Investing in STEM focused afterschool programs can improve student perceptions about STEM fields and careers, increase STEM proficiencies, and trigger a higher likelihood of a student pursuing a STEM career.
Earlier this month, I was pleased to announce that NASA has awarded the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium $500,000 to support the Community College Technical Schools Student Launch Program, which enables students to create and design experiments and launch them into space from Spaceport America.
I also voted to pass the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a bipartisan bill that was signed into law last month to help update and streamline some of New Mexico's federal workforce development programs. This means more training and education opportunities for job seekers or those looking to sharpen their skills. I'm pleased this law also provides assistance for tribal communities to succeed.
The key to growing our economy and making New Mexico a great place to raise a family, to start or expand a business, to have a good paying job, to hire the best and brightest employees, is to improve and invest in our education system.
If you look at the data in New Mexico, it’s clear we are not doing enough for our students:
- 26 percent of our students aren’t finishing high school on time.
- 12 percent of teens are not in school and not working.
- 77 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in math.
- 79 percent of fourth graders are not proficient in reading
- 62 percent of our children are not attending preschool.
These statistics are clearly unacceptable.
Improving education in our state is going to take a lot more than one bill or initiative, and it is not going to happen overnight.
I want to commend the State legislature for looking for ways to improve public education and child wellbeing. I believe the time has come to invest a percentage of New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund in early childhood education.
A report from the State Investment Council shows that New Mexico’s Permanent Fund, which we spend a small portion of every year on education and other important services, is growing at a robust pace. The fund now exceeds $13.8 billion, making it the second largest fund of its kind in the nation.
According to New Mexico Voices for Children, if the initial 2011 proposal put forth in the state legislature to invest 1.5 percent of the permanent fund had passed and the voters had approved it in 2012, the balance of the fund would have grown to about $13.4 billion instead of $13.8 billion.
I know that this proposal does not come without controversy. I recognize that many people view this fund, rightly so, as our rainy day fund. But I have news: It is raining. And it is time to think out of the box about how we lay the groundwork for our state for decades to come.
I don’t think there’s any denying that expanding access to high-quality early childhood education would generate a significant return on investment for our state, and I think the time is now to take that investment seriously and look at how we can give a leg up to New Mexico’s next generation.
Numerous credible studies have shown that each dollar invested in early childhood services has a significant rate of return through a reduced need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition, and special education, as well as increased productivity and earnings for these children as adults.
And when people are earning more, they spend more as your customers. When businesses have more customers, they hire more workers.
Ensuring our students are receiving a world-class, affordable education at every age and no matter where they come from isn’t just about improving the wellbeing of our children. I believe it’s also the surest way to rescue our economy.
But if we are going to improve education, and create the workforce of tomorrow, everyone needs to be participants.
From Washington to the Roundhouse. From the board of education to the boardrooms of corporations. From Sandia Labs to the high school chemistry lab. A commitment must be madeat every level.
And as business leaders, you can also play an important role in improving education -- volunteering, forming relationships with local schools, providing internships within your place of business.
All of you in this room today give me much hope for the future, and I’m confident that together we will make New Mexico better and have a significant and lasting impact on our economy.
I want to thank you for hosting me, and I look forward to taking your questions.