UNM graduates are leaving New Mexico for better jobs, and the state’s economy has been stagnant in recent years, but UNM President Robert Frank said he has a plan that could help fix both problems.
At the beginning of the month, President Frank and a committee of UNM faculty and staff, public officials and community leaders from Albuquerque went to the University of Florida to learn about Innovation Square. This is an initiative to reverse the “brain drain,” or loss of graduates to out-of-state employers, and to maintain New Mexico as a force of economic growth, Frank said.
Innovation Square, described in a pamphlet as a “community that brings research and business together to inspire people to think bigger,” had revitalized Gainesville, the small town where the University of Florida is, he said. So far it’s brought in businesses and the technology and service industry jobs to support this growth, he said.
“It was really quite remarkable to see all they’ve achieved in such a short time,” Frank said.
Frank said that he hopes to bring this success back to Albuquerque, and to customize the role of Innovation Square for the new location.
Frank said that unlike Gainesville, Albuquerque is extremely growth-oriented, though it still has legal and human obstacles to overcome before leveraging this advantage.
“Albuquerque needs to get some growth pushers in place,” said Frank. “We need to get the public and private sources working together.”
The plan is still in its beginning stages; Frank said a committee has yet to be formed. So far, he said they know the first step is creating unified utility codes throughout the city, which would make it easier to raise new buildings and develop land faster.
“That’s the key to growing very quickly, and both sectors can agree on that,” said Frank. “With the utility codes, the public sector needs to be the catalyst, and the private sector will follow.”
Frank also said having a center like Innovation Square in Albuquerque would be beneficial to students at UNM and elsewhere.
By creating science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs in Albuquerque, Frank said he believes the high-paying positions would make students more likely to stay in the city or the state.
In what Frank called a “trickle-down” effect, supporting businesses would follow these technical-knowledge jobs, resulting in opportunities for non-STEM students, as well as for those with high school degrees.
“While it’s initially geared for STEM students, the project would be an exponential job creator for everyone,” said Frank. “It’s not just for STEM students, or even just for college students. At the end of the day, we can help everyone, even the guy working in the widget factory.”