Albuquerque taught lessons about economic development, incentives

Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities recently organized a leadership exchange trip to Albuquerque, N.M.

Elected and appointed leaders from across Southern Arizona tagged along to learn from New Mexico's largest city.

Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis and council members Paula Abbott and K.C. Carter also came along for the three-day trip, from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2.

"Albuquerque is probably the most similar city to the Tucson region as any other city around," Loomis said.

Like Tucson, Albuquerque sits at the convergence of two interstate highways, has similar demographics and weather.

Unlike Tucson, Albuquerque has embraced mass-transit options beyond surface streets. The New Mexico Rail Runner Express began service in the Albuquerque area in 2006. The rail system also connects to Santa Fe and surrounding areas.

Loomis said the city also has a different attitude toward economic incentives than Tucson.

"When you talk economic development (in Albuquerque), everybody is on board with respect to state incentives," Loomis said.

Incentives have been a troubling issue for municipalities across Arizona, Oro Valley included. The early 2000s saw a raft of contentious economic incentive deals struck between the town and retail developers. The tensions came to head with the $23 million sales tax sharing agreement with developers of the Oro Valley Marketplace.

A lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of such deals is winding through the Arizona Supreme Court, which could restrict or ban future arrangements.

Similar incentives in New Mexico are met with little protest, Loomis said.

"They're very much less of an issue," the mayor said.

Councilman Carter agreed that New Mexico has taken a different course than Arizona in the area of incentives and promoting economic development.

"They're fast tracking stuff," Carter said. "State and local government works together."

Carter commented that Albuquerque's downtown revitalization efforts have been a success, in contrast with stalled efforts to do the same in Tucson.

"Their downtown is beautiful," Carter said. "The people wanted it, they wanted downtown built."

Elected officials from other regional governments also attended, among them Tucson City Council members Shirley Scott and Regina Romero, Sahuarita Mayor Lynne Skelton and Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson.

Officials with the University of Arizona and numerous private sector representatives attended as well. Marana did not send any representatives.

Loomis said he brought back with him examples of how the Tucson region could benefit from Albuquerque's example.

"The entire region benefits from development in Oro Valley or Tucson or Marana," Loomis said.

The trip cost $1,800 per person. The Pima Association of Governments paid Loomis' costs as the group's representative to TREO. TREO paid half of Abbott's and Carter's expenses.

Tale of Two Cities: Albuquerque and Tucson


Albuquerque 504,949     Tucson 518,956

Percent 65 years old and older

Albuquerque 12     Tucson 11.9

Percent white

Albuquerque 71.6     Tucson 70.2

Percent Hispanic

Albuquerque 39.9     Tucson 35.7

Percent black

Albuquerque 3     Tucson 4.3

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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