How the Keller Administration is Catalyzing Change in the Economy
An Interview with Sarita Nair – Chief Administrative Officer, City of Albuquerque
July 31, 2018
The City of Albuquerque purchases more than $100 million worth of products and services through the Purchasing Division each year. We interviewed Sarita Nair, Chief Administrative Officer at the City of Albuquerque about how the Keller administration is changing where and how we spend those dollars to support Albuquerque’s homegrown businesses.
Q: How can city dollars support homegrown businesses?
A: People don’t realize all the things the government buys. Most people are aware of our multi-million dollar construction projects. But we also spend money on smaller things. We get our carpets cleaned, we have plants, we buy coffee. When we purchase locally, consistently, we use the buying power of our tax dollars to create opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses. That in turn can create income that supports their families and grows jobs.
Q: What changes you are most excited about at the City of Albuquerque when it comes to job creation and economic mobility?
A: One of the first things we did in office is to institutionalize the concept of equity. We created the Office of Equity and Inclusion to deepen our equity work. One of the things we learned early on was that while everyone generally supports equity, as soon as you start to drill down into the specifics, that consensus fades. For example, we proposed a new criterion for how we prioritize capital projects, saying that “underserved” neighborhoods and groups would get priority. When we put the concept of equity in concrete form, we immediately got pushback. The Office of Equity and Inclusion can provide the technical and historical information to give folks a more complex and nuanced understanding of what it means to say “underserved.” We look at it in terms of poverty, but we are also identifying where the City has chosen to invest and when we should make different choices. The Office helps us move the conversation “underserved” to “this neighborhood doesn’t have streetlights and crime is high here, so we should put streetlights there before we upgrade existing lights.” Then people start to agree again.
Second, our vision for economic development focuses on creating more economic opportunities for our families, our local businesses and our homegrown entrepreneurs. Several City leaders have been a part of the Living Cities integration initiative and City Alive, so many of the strategies in our economic development plan have been informed by that process.
The administration is focusing on six areas to make an impact on the economy:
Increment of One: While we continue to recruit the “big fish” companies that can bring hundreds of jobs from elsewhere, we also need to acknowledge that 500 businesses hiring one more employee can have as much of an impact as one 500-person employer. In fact, that impact may be greater because homegrown businesses are more likely to stay here as they expand. We will invest with “an increment of one” through a variety of programs that help increase the workforce through local entrepreneurship and the game-changer businesses who are already here.
Buying Local: Albuquerque can use our buying power to ensure local businesses are the providers of goods and services for the City, which will replace the millions of tax dollars currently sent to out-of-town vendors.
Placemaking: The measures of any great city are the number of great places within the city and the degree to which people and places are connected. We will promote placemaking in big forms like the Rail Yards redevelopment, the Tingley Beach-El Vado-Bio Park corridor and the multiuse development at Unser and Central, or in smaller ways like Bricklight Nights and the new Civic Plaza.
Smart Recruitment: We will continue to support the recruitment of businesses that align with our priorities. But not every business that asks for incentives should receive them. Specifically, we need to conserve our resources to incentivize businesses that bring economic base jobs, which make the economic pie bigger instead of just moving the slices around. We also need to consider whether businesses are relocating to places that meet our placemaking objectives.
International Business: We can capitalize on our unique placement along two major interstates, near an international airport and in a foreign trade zone while promoting Albuquerque as a strategic location for foreign small- to medium-sized enterprises.
Creative Economy & Film: Our creative economy is an important element in the economic vitality of Albuquerque. Our unrivaled culture, cuisine, art, music and film industries are key to economic development.
Q: How does the City plan to better support local, minority-owned businesses?
A: Currently, our data shows about 2% of our city purchasing goes to women-owned businesses and 3% to people of color-owned, however we are still finalizing those numbers. We know we can do better. That means that our buy local initiative also furthers our goal to support businesses owned by women and people of color.
The City has spoken about spending dollars locally before, but we added a layer of accountability. Effective July 1, all purchases under $70,000 that go to an out-of-state vendor must include documentation that the department was unable to identify a local business for the contract. We have also changed the small purchase threshold from $2,500 to $10,000. Small purchases require the least amount of paperwork and are a good way for local and people of color-owned businesses to get a foot in the door. By raising the dollar threshold for the small procurement, we remove a lot of the red tape that could keep a small business from accessing city contracts.
Q: How does a local business become a city vendor?
A: Companies interested in receiving notice of upcoming solicitations from the City can register at www.cabq.gov/getbids.
In an effort to better prepare local businesses to successfully become a city vendor, the City will now share a broad picture of expected bidding opportunities three to six months in advance of the formal posting of the bid or proposal. This will give local companies a sense of the market that the City has for various goods and services. For example, this summer, the City will issue a request for bids (RFB) for IT hardware.
To increase access to these opportunities, all City community centers and libraries will have someone on staff who is trained on the process and is there to walk you through getting set up as a city vendor. The application is also available online here.