It’s Time for Specific Suggestions on how to improve NM government

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

In an Op Ed in the Albuquerque Journal on Sept. 8th (Jaunts to Cuba Don’t Net Trade), Jamie Estrada pointed out New Mexico’s failure as an exporter. His statistics revealed his understanding of life at the ’50,000 ft.’ macro level. I had a different perspective having spent 20 years ‘in the trenches’ overseas as a U.S. Department of Commerce Commercial Service Officer.

That changed in 2006 when the Governor appointed me Director of the Office of Science and Technology at the Economic Development Department (EDD). For the next forty-two months I collaborated with all the other divisions there, especially with the International Trade Division which is responsible for promoting New Mexico’s products and services. I watched how the ‘sausage was made’ at ground level and it was not usually a pretty sight.

Economic Development Departments are by nature, extremely active places. They are always under the gun to create more jobs, attract foreign investment, and their activities are seldom fully-funded. The EDD needs good people, and it already has quite a few who work hard and receive little praise. It is, however, a dysfunctional family owing to excessive politicization and as such needs some major changes.

House-cleaning needed: Some specific next steps

The EDD needs a thorough house-cleaning, a new structure and a new direction that is less ‘vulnerable’ to the whims of the Executive Branch which repeatedly appropriates its meager program funds to pay for questionable ‘Trade Missions’ to faraway places. Several analyses have been done on the EDD over the years, and while some have pointed out weaknesses, none to my knowledge has indicated how to improve efficiency and secure better outcomes. Here are just a few of my suggestions gleaned from a 42-month tenure there.

Suggestion #1 – Prepare a new, realistic and workable plan for the entire Department that has specific reachable targets, metrics and outcomes for everybody – upper and second tier management included. Vet that plan with the business community and the Economic Development Commissioners before implementing it. Then make it available to the general public.

Suggestion #2 – Safeguard against ‘vanity’ or ‘trophy’ projects. For example, do not create opportunities or markets where they don’t currently exist just to further an ideology (the ‘green economy’ is one).

Suggestion #3 – Eliminate the ‘dead wood’ (ultra-political board members) from business commissions and organizations like the NM Partnership that report to the Executive Branch. Replace them with apolitical people with broad business and economic development experience who can truly help the EDD succeed.

Suggestion #4 – Review and re-vamp the EDD programs that dispense resources. Make sure these resources are properly targeted at creating jobs. For example, we cannot afford to subsidize worker training if the training won’t help keep their jobs in New Mexico.

Suggestion #5 – Re-assess the export-related goals and ambitions of the State. Temporarily freeze all international travel for all EDD employees from the Cabinet Secretary on down – and refuse to ‘reclassify’ politically-motivated travel as ‘Trade Missions.’ The EDD must not be forced to move precious program funds to the Executive Branch without a high probability of achieving specific trade-related outcomes. Do a thorough exporting plan, choose the high-potential markets of opportunity and pursue them vigorously, but first staff up the Division and fund it or… eliminate it.

Suggestion #6 – Eliminate one of the two Deputy Cabinet Secretary positions. The EDD doesn’t need TWO former public affairs officers in Deputy Secretary positions (cost of two positions: nearly $200K).

Suggestion #7 – Move the Science and Technology Division’s function out of the EDD to the newly-established Research Applications Center and re-make the portfolio using contract positions instead of full-time State employees.

Suggestion #8 – Eliminate the Office of Mexican Affairs and move its few remaining employees over to the Economic Development ‘Partnership’ (the State’s foreign investment recruitment arm) so they can pursue real opportunities in many markets that include, but are not limited to, Mexico.

Suggestion #9 – Consolidate the EDD’s important offices under two roofs: one office in Albuquerque (where a huge concentration of business resides and which would save thousands of dollars in travel funds) and one in Santa Fe. Allow certain individuals to telecommute and improve the EDD’s capability to teleconference.

Suggestion #10 – Improve morale and reward exceptional performance. (In 2008, I offered to privately-fund a start-up certificate of merit/awards program, but management never implemented it.) If we expect our State workers to produce we must not only give them the tools to do so, we must also show them our appreciation from time to time.

These are just ten specific suggestions that could not only improve the delivery of the EDD’s services but the services as well. It’s time we had a statewide dialogue on improving government and move away from our usual general circular arguments and get right to the specifics. Time is not on our side.

Stephan Helgesen is the former Director of the State’s Office of Science and Technology and retired Foreign Service Officer who lived and worked in 20 countries. He operates a high-technology consulting company, 2nd Opinion Marketing & Communications.



  1. Publius Daily Digest - April 29, 2011

    [...] is an older piece I came across on The New Mexican Voice that is worth checking out: It’s Time for Specific Suggestions on how to improve NM government: Economic Development Departments are by nature, extremely active places. They are always under the [...]

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