November 1, 2014

2011 Fire Season: It’s going to take us all

Posted on 13. Jul, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Energy/Environment

Uncharacteristic wildfires can be devastating to natural resources and our communities.  This year’s fire season is showing us that first hand.  Too many trees and unhealthy forest conditions, a dry winter and spring, above average temperatures, low humidity, and near constant wind events created extremely dry vegetation, vegetation that was ready to burn.  Every spring people ask us (the Forest Service) if we are ready for fire season. Some might say we can only know the answer after the season is over.  But I believe we can be ready for wildfires, in fact, we must be ready, knowing events won’t always turn out exactly how we would like.  If you’ve lived in the Southwest for any length of time, it’s easy to realize all of the conditions favored a potentially long and difficult fire season.  And we got it…but we, in the wildland fire business, were ready.  Here are the reasons why I think that was the case.

We take our charge to protect life, property, and the natural resources that our communities depend on very seriously. That means taking actions to prevent fires from starting in the first place and being prepared when they do start.  We took actions to help prevent fire starts and to protect both human life and the forests that we all treasure.  We restricted camp fires and other activities when the risks for fire increased, and when conditions became too extreme on some forests, those forests are now closed to public use.  The hot, dry, and windy conditions told us we needed to be prepared earlier than normal for fire season.  We brought in firefighters and equipment three to four weeks early and made sure helicopters and air tankers were in close proximity.

But restrictions, closures, and securing resources early are not cure alls.  We need each of you to take personal responsibility to stop fires from starting.  Humans and nature can be unpredictable and the fires that result can be destructive given the right circumstances.  It’s important to recognize however, what our efforts and firefighters achieve in the face of adversity, and that there are successes to be thankful for along the way.

We are blessed with committed individuals both inside and outside the Forest Service, including highly trained people who risk their lives every day to minimize the impact of wildfires.  With nearly 200,000 acres burned this spring on national forests in New Mexico (and more each day); hundreds of threatened homes and businesses have been saved.   We would rather never lose homes to wildfire, but sometimes the conditions make it impossible to save every one, and our hearts go out to those who have suffered losses.  Many communities including Mayhill, Ruidoso, and Queen have been threatened by the various fires in New Mexico.

Despite extreme fire behavior, we were able to save the majority of homes, losing three in the Mayhill Fire, five in the White Fire and one in the Last Chance Fire.  Heroic efforts of local, state, and federal firefighters were aided in these successes by the previous removal of trees to thin forests in and around communities.  Many individual homeowners worked hard to “firewise” their homes and we thank each and every one of you.  Thinning done around the towns of Mayhill and Ruidoso, New Mexico can be credited with protecting those communities from the extreme fire behavior of the Mayhill and White fires.  Fire hit these areas with incredible force but the flames dropped down to something more manageable in the thinned areas.  Fewer trees in more natural patterns with appropriate spacing result in fires that burn primarily on the ground or with more moderate behavior, and at a slower pace.  This allows firefighters to safely attack the fire more directly, minimizing its impacts and allowing for protection of property and other resources.  Efforts to thin forests around communities paid off for the resources, the firefighters, and the communities.

Fire is a natural and important part of southwestern forest ecosystems, so we will never eliminate all impacts from fire.  But we can and are striving to minimize those undesirable impacts by restoring our forests to a more healthy condition; a condition that supports lower intensity fires that are easier to manage and benefit the forests.  I recognize the urgent need for restoration not only to reduce the risk of fires like the Mayhill and White Fires, but also to improve the resilience of our forests and ensure they are here for future generations.

We have accomplished some good things but they aren’t nearly enough.  We need innovative thinking, committed partners, and a vibrant wood products industry to achieve our goal and overcome financial and other challenges we face.  Federal resources alone will never be sufficient.  We need you to observe restrictions and closures and do your best to make your homes defensible (www.firewise.org).  Projects such as the Southwest Jemez Mountains Landscape Restoration project in northern New Mexico and the 16 Springs Stewardship project in the southern New Mexico are two examples of what we can do when we work together.  The Southwest Jemez project is a collaborative, landscape-scale initiative designed to restore fire-adapted ecosystems on 210,000 acres in northern New Mexico.

The area is a key source of water for the greater Albuquerque area and many smaller communities, and is also rich in archeological and other natural resources. Together, with a diverse group of stakeholders, the Santa Fe National Forest is working toward restoration of this landscape across National Forest, National Park Service, state, private, and tribal lands.  The 16 Springs Stewardship is a partnership between the Lincoln National Forest and the Mescalero Apache Tribe and is the first stewardship project conducted under the Tribal Forest Protection Act (TFPA). The goal of the project is to improve forest health, and reduce hazardous fuels and associated fire risk to tribal lands, the community of 16 Springs, the Village of Ruidoso (rated the most at risk community in New Mexico and number two on the list of most at risk communities in the nation), and National Forest System lands. The 16 Springs Stewardship project, currently underway, includes the 16 Springs (Otero County) and Perk/Grindstone (Ruidoso, Lincoln County) project areas on the Lincoln National Forest.

I ask for your support, your energy, and your ideas to help us meet this challenge.  We stand ready with your help… to both fight fires and to restore forest health to make fires a more manageable part of the future.

Corbin Newman was assigned to the position of Regional Forester for the Southwestern Region of the U.S. Forest Service in December 2007. Newman has held numerous positions at all levels of the Forest Service—in both the eastern and western parts of the country—during his 35-year career.

 

Where We Have Hope

Posted on 26. May, 2011 by Administrator in Education

It is such a pleasure to have the opportunity to write and contribute to the amazing conversations going on around the world on the welfare of orphans and vulnerable children.

The Goromonzi Project Inc is a 501c3 (tax deductible charity) that was founded by a New Mexican resident, Janet Shaw. Shaw who is originally from Zimbabwe was visiting the Southern African country and she came across numbers of children who were not in school. On enquiring further why these children were out of school she was shocked to learn that these children were orphans and had no one to pay their school fees. On her return to Albuquerque she immediately got some friends together and this marked the birth of The Goromonzi Project. Over the past four years TGP has assisted over 500 orphans and vulnerable children to access education, food, health and material provisions. This number can increase with your contribution. These children are no different from those in New Mexico it is only that their life circumstances are different.

TGP is currently running a program that is increasing access to early education for orphans and vulnerable children. Through this program we have managed to secure support for the renovation and equipping of four rural preschools, providing a breakfast meal for over 400 children, increasing access to health service provision for the same number of children and engaging grandparents and guardians in conversations on revitalizing community safety nets for orphans and vulnerable children. This work has had a lot of impact on the communities being served and a lot of children are getting hope for a better future. TGP works to empower the communities to take responsibility and ownership of the programs. In this way there is sustainability in the work we do and that the communities are empowered to continue caring for their children after we have exited that community. In our work over the years we have learnt that in identifying community strengths and building upon them, successful interventions in orphan care are realized. It is important to realize that these communities were looking after children since time immemorial but what changed was their economic situation, their way of life and the political system within the community and country. The community strengths therefore help us identify the mechanisms used traditionally for social protection.

Education is one of those mechanisms that can be used to enhance the social protection of children. TGP through the early learning centers is able to reach out to young orphans and vulnerable children to give them an opportunity to play and learn at the same time. Research has shown that once children are involved in the learning system they grow up to become responsible citizens who harness the opportunities that are presented to them. The children in Zimbabwe have not been able to get those opportunities because of them who are orphans do not have anyone to pay the required fees. TGP has in this case engaged the communities to make sure that the children benefit from early learning through the preschool program. Once the children are in school, as they grow their interest in education grows and hence they will stay within the school system and grow to be responsible citizens.

Once educated these children are able to live a life full of possibilities and have hope for a secure and brighter future. You too can give hope to these children, visit our website on www.goromonziproject.org or email me at patrick@goromonziproject.org to learn how you can contribute. Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing in this column about the issues affecting children in Zimbabwe and how we can all be involved. I also would love to have feedback from you on this and other issues. Happy reading, until next time!

Patrick Makokoro
Director – Goromonzi Project Zimbabwe, Africa

Germany and the USA: Shared Visions

Posted on 23. May, 2011 by Administrator in Social/Cultural

It is said that fully 25% of all Americans can trace their heritage back to Germany. That figure has dipped a bit only because of increased immigration from other countries, but it stands out as powerful reminder that our collective ‘Germanness’ is well-earned. There are myths that abound as well. One of them is that the German language almost became the legal language of the United States. History tells a different story.

On January 13, 1795, Congress considered a proposal, not to give the German language any official status, but merely to print the federal laws in German as well as English. During the debate, a motion to adjourn failed by one vote. The final vote rejecting the translation of federal laws, which took place one month later, is not recorded. It seems that the translation proposal originated as a petition to Congress on March 20, 1794, from a group of Germans living in Augusta, Virginia.

Past is prologue

The German/American relationship is full of exciting moments, and some urban legends like the ‘German language vote’ have become fodder for the growth of a mythology about our two countries, but as we all know, myths are not the stuff true relationships are made of. Facts are another story. Putting aside the long and proud history of Germany and the two World Wars that tarnished that pride for several generations of young and old Germans alike, let’s focus on our shared values. The immigrant Germans that came to our shores in the 18th and 19th centuries were hard-working, God-fearing people. Many were farmers, but thousands had tradesmen’s skills, and they plied them across our great land. Stonemasons, carpenters and others built our courthouses and public buildings (a trip to the German settlements like Fredericksburg in our neighboring state of Texas will prove that).

They brought with them their love and zest for life as well. Scratch the surface of a German and more than likely you will find a person endowed with a love of food, dance, music and art. Their mercantile skills led them into businesses as diverse as purveyors of goods, grain and other items needed by America’s settlers. If we fast forward to the 20th century in the years after WWII and the Marshall Plan, we saw a country that was intent on rebuilding itself as it shifted into high gear. To be fair, the decimation of Germany’s old-world manufacturing and the support of the U.S. helped them implement newer technology, enabling them to leapfrog over many nations stuck with older manufacturing sectors.

They embarked on a full-scale redefinition and retooling of their manufacturing sector. From steel production to capital goods (the machines that make the machines) and the associated technology that went with it like Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) technology helped Germany lead the way to more efficient production of not only capital goods, but also the downstream products that evolved from them. These gains enabled Germany’s premier auto companies like Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen and many other lesser-known non-automotive firms find willing buyers for their high-quality products.

Workers and unions: past and present

Germans have always supported their own industry (unlike the U.S. that has seemed to put price and the profit margin over ‘buying local’). Trade unionism, which was an outgrowth of the old guild system in Germany, worked well for them. The unique form of German worker/owner cooperation, ‘mitbestimmung’ (joint decision-making), in the factories helped turn workers into stakeholders as many key decisions of the German corporation were vetted with workers’ representatives. This worker participation has no relationship to the Communist model where the corporations were owned and operated by the people. It was, however, a daring step on the part of German firms to bring the unions and workers into the boardroom so they could see how the ‘sausage was made.’ I’m convinced that it prevented more strikes and labor unrest from happening and helped German industry plan and execute its plans better.

While German industry was finding its footing in the post-war world, German society was experiencing its share of prosperity but also moving towards a modified form of what Americans would call, ‘socialism.’ The Germans would probably prefer to call their decisions to provide healthcare, unemployment insurance, education stipends and other forms of social safety net investments as much-needed insurance against the kind of vulnerabilities that they faced before WWII in the thirties and after. The architects of these social contracts and the politicians that voted for them were themselves witnesses to the dire economic conditions of pre- and post war Germany. They were bound and determined not to put their country at that level of risk ever again.

Immigration problems?

Ironically, Germany’s success in the sixties led to a shortage of workers in the seventies, so it looked abroad and ‘imported’ workers from Turkey, Pakistan and elsewhere. It modified its immigration laws to allow for a more liberal policy that brought many unskilled laborers (so-called gastarbeiter or guest workers) into the country and gave them special status that eventually allowed them to stay on as permanent residents. That would turn into a challenge for them, later, however. Since the formation of the Hanseatic League, Germany has always had its eye on foreign markets. Exporting has been an integral part of Germany’s business plan for centuries, and they’ve been quite good at it, establishing trading houses, distributorships and agencies for their products around the world. A joke was, if you walked into a bar in some far-flung corner of the world, you would encounter three foreigners: a Dane, a Dutchman and a German – and they would all have one thing in common (besides being able to speak German) – an abiding interest in the local market.

What do we have in common with the Germans and what can we learn from them?

Our two countries were created in large part from ‘sweat equity’ and by an abiding belief in our ability to improve on the past and seize the opportunities of the future by learning from our successes and failures. Americans can learn much from the German example and from the Germans themselves. We need a viable industrial plan that invests in new technology and new industries. We need a strong partnership with our workers, one that promotes openness and a stakeholder mentality. We must look outward to new export markets and the new opportunities for growth that comes from that effort. We need to create our own unique brand of ‘safety net’ that protects us from catastrophic illness and that trains or re-trains us in the skills we need to compete in the new world economy. We must also be flexible and forward-thinking about our immigration policy, realizing that cheap labor is not always good labor.

We must begin to bring back outsourced jobs with the carrot not the stick, AND we must learn to buy our own products, backed by the realization that exporting dollars is not the way to achieve fiscal stability or security. We must save more, and our government must spend less more wisely. German society is changing, too. It has been hit hard by the world economic downturn. While its companies are prominent in many foreign markets, Germany is part of a culturally and financially diverse mosaic called the European Union with plenty of have-nots. It knows that not everybody can afford the most expensive products, and it’s doing its best to match its products to the market. Despite that fact, somewhere in every German is a little voice that whispers, “We must never be too poor to buy anything cheap.” Maybe that’s the lesson we all need to learn when it comes to valuing each other as well.

Stephan Helgesen is a former U.S. diplomat who lived and worked in Germany. He is also the Honorary Consul for Germany in New Mexico and is working on a project called ‘IQ New Mexico’ that is designed to raise the ‘Internationality Quotient’ (profile of New Mexico) among foreign companies and governments. He can be reached at: stephanhelgesen@cs.com.

April Real Estate Market Plods Along

Posted on 23. May, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

April 2011 New Mexico home sale numbers are down from March 2011. However, over the same period, the median price of a New Mexico property rose roughly 1.5% to $165,000.  The median is where half sold for more and half sold for less.  There were 1,077 sales reported to the REALTORS Association of New Mexico (RANM) during April 2011.  1,143 sales were reported in March.  Seven reporting counties, including Bernalillo, Santa Fe, and McKinley, did show increases in the number of sales from March to April.

Year to date sales are down over 7% from 2010 January through April numbers, but are up 7.5% from 2009 numbers.  Median prices continue to fall below 2009 and 2010 figures. Lower priced homes have seen the best sales performance both nationally and in New Mexico.  “The biggest sales increase has been in the lower price ranges, which are popular with investors and cash buyers,” Teresa Ramos, 2011 RANM President, said.  “The preponderance of sales activity at the lower end is bringing down the median price.  And as the number of distressed homes (those in which the value is below the amount of equity the owners have in them) remains high, values continue to struggle to get off of the bottom.”

According to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS’ (NAR) research, home sales are on track to outperform last year, even though the market doesn’t have the benefit of the home buyer tax credit.  This is thanks to sustained economic growth, the slowly recovering jobs picture, and historically high affordability conditions.  New Mexico reports are on track for a “better than 2009” year, but have not yet climbed to 2010 numbers.

M. Steven Anaya, RANM Executive Vice President, says, “Historically high affordability is one of the key drivers of the improved sales performance.  NAR’s affordability index is at its highest level ever, at nearly 170, which means households earning the national median income have 170 percent of the income needed to buy a home at the national median price.  Low interest rates, often below 5%, also contribute to affordable conditions.” The trends and numbers reported are only a snapshot of market activity.  If you are interested in buying or selling, consult a REALTOR familiar with your market area; he/she can provide information on specific trends in your neighborhood.

Statistical information and trends are based on information furnished by New Mexico Member Boards and MLSs to U. S. House Stats. Current reporting participants are: Greater Albuquerque Association of REALTORS, Las Cruces Association of REALTORS MLIS, New Mexico Multi-Board MLS (Artesia, Carlsbad, Clovis/Portales, Deming, Gallup, Grants, Hobbs, Las Vegas, Sierra County areas), Otero County Board of REALTORS, Roswell Association of REALTORS, Ruidoso/Lincoln County Association of REALTORS, Santa Fe Association of REALTORS, San Juan County Board of REALTORS, Silver City Regional Association of REALTORS, and the Taos Association of REALTORS. Reports represent single family residential data only.  Information does not necessarily represent all activity in any market/county.  Figures based on reports run 5/17/11.  Visit www.nmrealtor.com (housing trends) for county and board statistics.

The REALTORS Association of New Mexico is one of the state’s largest trade associations, representing over 5,500 members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate market.

Spokes of Reverence

Posted on 23. May, 2011 by Administrator in Social/Cultural

Wednesday May 18, Duke City Wheelmen Foundation together with Leigh Ann Hatcher-Inglis will host the annual Ride of Silence.  This is an international ride to remember cyclists injured or killed in collisions with motor vehicles.  rideofsilence.org There will be rides in all 50 states and many foreign countries, 315 and counting.

We will start and finish at 6711 Edith Blvd. NE, at Q Cycle.  Registration opens at 5:30 pm and closes at 6:45 pm Wednesday, May 18, 2011.  Everyone, please come early to sign a waver.  Donations accepted to cover insurance costs.   Everyone who makes a donation will receive a unique Spoke Card for the event.  Helmets required, lights if you have them. We will have one minute of silence at the start to remember Dan Montoya and to send positive, healing thought to Matt Trujillo, as well as to both these cyclists families and friends. The ride is approximately 9 miles and will proceed no faster than 12 mph so all can participate.  For a route map, visit dukecitywheelmen.org

Red arm bands will be available to represent riding for an injured rider, black armbands to represent riding for a fallen cyclists. There will be a minute of silence before Wednesday’s Ride Of Silence for Matt Trujillo and Dan Montoya, their families and friends in addition to the usual dedication of the ride to cyclists injured or killed.  For more information about this ride, go to dukecitywheelmen.org

Because we are people there will always be crashes; as a group we are just not capable of perfect driving all the time.  But the kind of crash that claimed the life of one cyclist and left another in very critical condition last week can be made less likely. One of the first complaints from motorists about cyclists is when they see a cyclist run a red light or commit some other traffic code infraction.  While I don’t think that cyclists should run red lights, can anyone site an instance where a cyclist running a red light resulted in the death of another road user?  If the NRA can say “It’s not guns that kill people, its people that kill people.” to keep guns legal, then I am going to say “Cars don’t kill people, people kill people!”  When we, you or I, drive a car in a careless, illegal or inattentive way, we are gambling with not just crumpled metal but with life.   And while some of us are more vulnerable road users than others, everyone is put at increased risk by the careless, illegal and inattentive driving habits we see around us every day.  People like Matt Trujillo and Dan Montoya can be cycling in completely lawful, safe ways, but those practices cannot protect them from all drivers.

From a KOAT online report May 12, 2011, “The bicyclist (Dan Montoya) was heading eastbound on Tramway when a car crossed the median and hit the bike head-on, (Bernalillo County Sheriff’s) deputies said.   Deputies said the driver of the car may have had a medical episode.”  Reports of the incident that caused severe bodily harm to Matt Trujillo said that he was hit by a driver who ran a red light.  Motor vehicle drivers are in control, or not, of a potentially far more dangerous means of transportation.   Our streets and highways are not a level playing field. It is not the other driver I’m asking you to look at, it’s you.  We are each responsible for our own driving habits.  Take a realistic look at your abilities, attentiveness, and habits.  What about your cell phone use, texting or talking?  Can you see well enough or do you need new glasses?  Are you healthy enough?  How is your awareness of two wheeled vehicles, motorized or human powered?   Do you obey the traffic laws?  What else do you think it is OK to do while driving, besides paying attention to the road?

Being in denial about this could have an incredibly high price.

Jennifer Buntz

 

Is Your Information Costing Too Much?

Posted on 16. May, 2011 by Administrator in Social/Cultural

Mention the information age and everybody under 30 swoons and goes into happy-time convulsions. These are the same folks that have a Blackberry, an IPAD, a laptop, a desktop computer, an IPOD, GPS system and satellite TV and radio. I’m not averse to technology.  I took my first computer course back in 1966 and worked on an old IBM 360 computer (the monster could barely fit in a two-car garage; today we have the same computing power in our laptop computers).

I got a CB radio when I was driving long distances because I thought it would help locate speed traps and avoid accidents. What it actually did was save my life back in the 70s when I began to fall asleep at the wheel and a kindly trucker shouted at me through my speaker, jolting me awake.  I bought a cellphone back in 1985 and have had one ever since. My car has GPS and satellite radio, so what’s the deal?

I’m simply astounded at what all this stuff is costing us. On a yearly basis, I spend the following: ABQ Journal newspaper subscription: approx. $150 (with the tip to the carrier), satellite TV: $1,200, satellite radio: approx. $300 for two cars, DSL high-speed line: approx. $500, email service: $200, mobilephones (one with internet connectivity): approx. $2,000, home telephone: $250/year, my computer modem (for accessing the internet when I’m not near a WiFi connection): approx. $200, magazine subscriptions: approx. $100, software to protect our computers (so that we can get the information): $60. That totals $4,960. That number does not include the hardware costs of the various appliances that use those services nor the electricity that powers them. I’m sure that if you add those in the total would be at least 10-15% higher!

Our new information age companies and their technology are helping us get more and more information every year, and manufacturers are wooing us with smarter and zippier products, and we’re buying them at amazingly high rates. I have a feeling that Americans can now append another description to ‘Land of the free, home of the brave.’ Now we can call ourselves, ‘Land of the early adopters and information junkies.’  I guess I would ask a question at this point, ‘What are we doing with all this information?’ Are we getting smarter from all of this info or are we just getting better at oneupsmanship (beating out our friends at emailing news to one another, gleaned from a blog, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook or some other moronic electronic watercooler)?

I remember a time when folks on my paper route waited near their door for me to throw them their morning newspaper (usually in their bushes), so that they could settle in with today’s news and a cup of hot java. Our telephone then was on a party line, and our neighbors regularly listened in.  Today it would be the equivalent of having the phone on ‘speaker’ setting and sitting in crowded waiting room while you blabbed about Uncle Mortimer’s gall bladder operation and his affair with Beatrice from the coffee shop. Our TV signed off at midnight with the playing of the national anthem as we watched the American flag wave in the electronic breeze just before the test pattern with a likeness of an Indian chief appeared.

In many ways those were simpler times because we weren’t privy to so much information. Our ignorance was bliss. Cataclysmic events from the other side of the world took their sweet time to reach us, but when they did, we were mortified and shocked. Today, I think the shock has been replaced with a feeling of, ‘what’s next’ (as President Josiah Bartlet of the West Wing used to say). I’m afraid our national compassion has been replaced with a short attention span due in no small measure to the deluge of mind-numbing information.

Stephan Helgesen is a retired diplomat and former Director of the State of NM Office of Science and Technology. He can be reached at: stephanhelgesen@cs.com.

 

It’s Time for a Crusade

Posted on 10. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

Last week I sat in a meeting of high-powered people from the scientific community.  We discussed how to spend federal grant money to combat the effects of climate change using sound science.  After an hour or so, we came to some startling conclusions, one of which was  that the group should link its work to job creation. I was so thrilled that these academics ‘got it,’ that I almost sprang out of my chair with glee. For many years, scientific pursuits were firewalled from business, and now I was witness to a dramatic breakthrough. If I were a skeptical man I might have ascribed their actions to a different set of motives like trying to fortify their position and insure their viability to get more federal money, but after working with these people for over four years, I know differently. They were genuinely excited about being able to use their efforts to create jobs for their fellow New Mexicans.

This epiphany should be experienced in all corners of our society. We should all be thinking of the impact our actions have on creating more opportunities and more long-term employment in the Land of Enchantment. That’s not such a far-fetched idea (though I have plenty of those). If we are to climb out of the unemployment hole we’ve dug for ourselves we had better declare we’re on a crusade, dust off our chain mail and mount up together to reverse this horrible trend of joblessness.

There are some disturbing facts that make this crusade essential. Last year we lost over 22,000 jobs (year on year) in New Mexico. Our state government and companies, like those in neighboring states, have tightened their belts. They have jettisoned workers from top positions all the way down the corporate ladder. We have high school dropout rates approaching 40%. We are graduating university students in six years instead of the usual four (though one might argue that’s a good thing because they enter the workforce later). Our small businesses are hanging on by their fingernails. They need us and we need them to be better marketers, better managers, more creative and more willing to try their hand at pursuing foreign markets.  I made this plea last year, but forgive me if I make it again. Please patronize our local establishments and buy their products and services.

Some communities have taken up the challenge. The City of Albuquerque has created a database where companies can register themselves, making it easier for them to find qualified suppliers and new customers. This new-fangled matchmaking ‘Yellow Pages’ is a good start and shows the city’s heart is in the right place, but more importantly it sets the right tone. It’s a positive step by a cash-strapped city to do something meaningful for its businesses and should stand as an example for other communities and organizations to follow.

Fraternal organizations and non-profits have perfected the art of living on a shoestring (not by choice but because they lack the flexibility of private businesses). While many have depended on the largesse of foundations and state government grants to exist, others have shown remarkable creativity in fund-raising and developing other revenue streams while keeping their operating expenses at a bare minimum. In these dire times, they, too, deserve our support whether it is through volunteering or cash contributions. There are two sayings that apply here. One is Chinese: “Give a man a fish and he has supper; teach a man to fish and he can feed himself.” The second is from our good friend, Ben Franklin, (not the five and dime store but the inventor) who said, “If we do not hang together, we will surely hang separately.”

Let’s all do our part to put New Mexico on the path to prosperity by mining the rich ore of talent and ideas that abound in this (still) Land o’ Plenty.

Stephan Helgesen is a former diplomat and Honorary Consul for Germany in New Mexico. He is also head of his own high-tech consulting company, Second Opinion Marketing.

Spendy Energy Future is No Joke

Posted on 03. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

President Obama’s March 30th speech on energy security offered nothing new—no new solutions, no big changes in policy. It was easy to tune him out as many news channels did, offering the speech only on their websites. In case you missed it, part of the same old, same old included some of his favorite lies.

The pundits seemed to have missed his comments about the public outcry of “drill, baby, drill.” In reference to the last time prices at the pump took a startling jump, he said, “The truth is, none of these gimmicks, none of these slogans made a bit of difference. When gas prices finally did fall, it was mostly because the global recession had led to less demand for oil.” Prices peaked in the summer of 2008. But it was not the “global recession” that stopped the steady climb. It was “gimmicks” and “slogans” that combined to wake the public up and cause them to put pressure on politicians. As a result, on July 14, President Bush lifted his own father’s ban on off-shore drilling. Oil prices dropped like a stone on that day! They fell again when Congress announced they’d let the ban expire. Obama claims, “The truth is…” “There are no quick fixes. Anybody who tells you otherwise isn’t telling you the truth.” His comments are lies. He could have come out with a plan to maximize American energy resources—all of them—and prices would fall on the anticipation of new supplies flooding the market and reducing dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

He did address dependence of foreign oil, repeating the phrase “freeing ourselves from dependence on foreign oil” twice. His comments morphed into “reducing America’s dependence on oil” saying we cannot “afford to bet our long-term prosperity, our long-term security on a resource that will eventually run out.” With the Middle East unrest, most everyone would agree with getting off of oil from Libya, Iraq, Venezuela, and other places that don’t like us. Because our biggest suppliers are Canada and Mexico, it is unlikely that America can “free” herself from foreign oil any time soon. However, we can greatly reduce our reliance on oil from our enemies by tapping our own abundant resources. While we should increase our energy security, there is no reason to rush a transition away from oil. We have enough to last several generations despite decades of declarations about running out. More deposits have been, and will be, discovered as technology improves. Plus, we have resource expansion—we can go hundreds of miles further on a fill-up than we could thirty years ago. We get more from less.

The replacements for oil, include “renewables.” Once again, Obama lied. He stated that utilities “need to buy a certain amount of clean energy in their overall portfolio.” Currently only 29 states require renewable energy in their portfolio. On the state level, it is called a Renewable Portfolio Standard. The states with the highest electricity prices are generally those who mandate renewable energy. We do not currently have a national standard that would make utilities “need” a specific energy source—they have the freedom to use what works efficiently and economically, but if Obama’s “blueprint” becomes a reality we will all be required to buy more expensive electricity.

His speech did give us insight as to what we can expect to hear from him as the 2012 campaign cycle ramps up: spending money we don’t have on projects that don’t work. “Government funding will still be critical…” “None of this would have happened without government support.” One of his key ideas for the Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future is to make an oil substitute from sources such as “switchgrass and wood chips and biomass.” After spending $76 million of taxpayer money on a pilot cellulosic ethanol project, the Georgia plant closed in February without ever producing a drop of oil replacement from the woodchips. (Yet, if the oil industry holds on to a lease and doesn’t “produce a single drop,” they are threatened with revocation.) It was one year ago that President Obama announced an expansion of off-shore drilling—upping expectations that he understood the important role American resource extraction plays in the economy. It turned out to be an early April Fool’s joke. With the March 30 release of his Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, the American public is, once again, being played as a fool. The truth is, it’s a blueprint for a spendy energy future. No joke.

Marita Noon is the Executive Director at Energy Makes America Great Inc. the advocacy arm of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy–working to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom and the American way of life. Find out more at www.EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org.

 

99 Years and Counting

Posted on 02. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

Soon our state will be celebrating its 100th birthday, and while plans have been underway for some time on just how we’ll blow out those 100 candles, I have some suggestions for the soon-to-be 99 year-old. In January, we will raise our glasses and toast New Mexico’s first woman governor, and that will signal the start of a new administration and, hopefully, the end of an era of divisive politics, intrigue and deep-seated mistrust in government. Hope springs eternal. Along with a new Governor, we’ll also have new crop of Cabinet Secretaries, Deputy Cabinet Secretaries, Division Directors, Public Affairs Officers and other appointees. Both candidates for governor have indicated they would seriously cut the number of ‘governor’s exempt’ positions. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there will be MORE work to do in 2011 as a result of nearly a year’s worth of staffing cuts. This work will have to be done by someone, and now might be the time to think about using contractors to replace exempt employees to do the state’s business.

Qualified contractors are cheaper than full-time employees as they don’t get holiday pay, sick leave, vacations or pension contributions. Their work is governed by a specific contract that lays out their tasks in detail, along with benchmarks and ‘deliverables.’ Their pay is subject to GRT so the state even gets money back as a result of their work! They are bound by ethics requirements, disclosure, competition clauses and are easily regulated by State contracting requirements. They are here when we need them and elsewhere when we don’t. The flexible nature of contract workers would enable the State to better plan for its needs by staffing up or staffing down almost at will.

The political culture will complain that contractors will not be ‘loyal’ to the administration, and that they will not be able to exert the kind of authority they need to accomplish the administration’s goals. I would submit that one of the principal reasons to use contractors is to get their honest opinions on how to accomplish difficult tasks. Their objectivity would be assured BECAUSE they would not be subject to the whims of the Executive Branch or fear reprisals for offering a potentially ‘politically unacceptable’ viewpoint. Government has an obligation to lead and to solve problems, and it has a better chance of doing both well if it has adequate resources. Given the record-breaking budget shortfalls staring the next administration and legislature in the face, we will simply not have the money necessary to do the state’s business unless we are able to achieve some massive personnel savings and/or dramatically make the State’s ‘machinery’ work better.

Obviously, we cannot replace every exempt employee with a contractor, but rather than simply eliminating all the exempt positions as some politicos advocate, we ought to carefully review our needs and see if there are opportunities to shift the portfolios of some of those positions to contractors.

2011 – The Year of Looking Inward … and Forward

New Mexico’s 99th year should be a year of introspection and dialogue where our citizens debate some fundamental issues like: what it means to be a New Mexican, what kind of New Mexico we want for the next 100 years, how we can move up the ‘good’ lists and down the ‘bad’ ones, what kind of neighbor New Mexico will be to the country to our south and to the states to our north, east and west, and finally, how we revitalize our economy and grow the kind of long-term sustainable jobs that will keep our children here and our families together. We have our work cut out for us as we tackle today’s (and tomorrow’s) problems, but so did our forefathers nearly a century ago as they braved the dangerous challenges of their time, many of which they were totally unprepared for. I would encourage our new governor to seize an opportunity next year to begin the process of bringing us together around the theme of ‘New Mexico 200,’ a statewide initiative she should launch to celebrate our state’s proud history and to contemplate our exciting future. It’s something we could all get behind, and if there ever was a time we needed a reason to come together it’s now.

Stephan Helgesen is the former Director of the State’s Office of Science and Technology and retired Foreign Service Officer having lived and worked in 20 countries. He is CEO of Second Opinion Marketing, a high-tech consultancy company in Albuquerque.

How To Create A New Mexican Job

Posted on 02. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

In 2007 I wrote the Strategic Five-year Plan for the State’s Economic Development Department.

For three months I crisscrossed the state talking to economic developers, city managers, mayors and chamber of commerce officials. I was pleased that they willingly answered the tough questions I had developed which dealt with infrastructure, tax bases, their principal industries and demographics and their vision of their town or city 10-15 years from now (then). I was also glad they agreed on the necessity to attract ’21st century industry’ and that it was this industry – not government – that would create the jobs. Most of us don’t focus on the ratio of private to public sector jobs in our state, but without going into too much detail let’s just say that without our public sector jobs our unemployment rate would be in the high double-digit range. While some might say that makes a strong case for retaining our government jobs, the truth is we can’t afford many of them, especially at the State level. Our current public sector looks like a fat man at a pie-eating contest. After gorging ourselves, we’re now paying the price with a bad case of economic gout. It doesn’t take a genius to know that we must economize, keep the jobs/services we need and jettison the rest AND steadily convert many of those jobs to private sector ones.

Today, we have around 30,000 manufacturing jobs IN THE WHOLE STATE, and despite some gains, we’ve not been able to shift into higher gear and see real improvement. Three NM counties don’t even have one manufacturing job. So how do we create the jobs necessary to reverse the public/private imbalance? We can start by acknowledging our strengths, which infrastructure and resource advantages we offer, and then ask ourselves the BIG question… why would a company want to locate or expand here? Aside from the obvious, companies need the fundamentals to be just right; to be in or near population centers with stable and trained workforces; and close to customers (and other businesses) with reasonably high disposable incomes. Too many fixed-income families aren’t considered an asset in the business world. There is hope, however.

Export markets and out-of-state companies

We cannot add enough local jobs to turn our state’s economy around quickly enough, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Just giving out loans won’t solve the problem. We need to realize that small businesses have a myriad of challenges, and not all of them can be solved with a micro-loan. While we must help our 136,000 plus small businesses stay viable and grow, we need to simultaneously fish in bigger waters and convince non-New Mexican and even non-U.S.-based companies that New Mexico means business – in any language. We need to focus on 21st century technology-based companies that need our rich resource of researchers, technologists and national labs. This will require a massive push by all of us, but most of all by our recruitment experts. We must re-double our efforts and double their budgets to get them, but get them we must. We need better and more targeted incentives, tax breaks that are tied to job creation, more commercially-relevant education in our schools and a state government that works smarter and more efficiently with our communities. On a national scale, we must bring back manufacturing jobs and grow our exports. If our exports represented a higher percentage of our sales we wouldn’t be as vulnerable during times of domestic decline. This is an election year, and job creation must not be a political football that’s passed laterally down the field. We must urge our candidates to give us their specific plans for New Mexico’s recovery, not general statements like, “I’m for job creation.” Businesses can’t wait for November 2nd to make plans or their investments, and we should give them the information they need to help them survive and thrive, now. In this global economy, we are not only competing with our neighbors, we are competing with cities thousands of miles away, in other countries and on other continents. Patrick Geddes, the Scottish town planner and activist had it right; think globally, but act locally. I would add, the sooner the better.

Stephan Helgesen is former Director of the Office of Science and Technology for the State of New Mexico and retired U.S. Foreign Commercial Service Officer who served in twenty foreign countries. He is CEO of 2nd Opinion Marketing, an international high-technology consultancy company.

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