Closing the Gaps in the New Year
By Robin Brulé | Chief Executive Strategist
When we embarked on this experiment in collective impact nearly five years ago we did not know where the path would lead. We knew Albuquerque was facing some of our toughest economic challenges. We knew there were no simple solutions. We knew that progress toward realizing our city’s full potential as a place to live, work and prosper — for all — would take time. Probably a lot of time.
We also knew we were committed to doing what was necessary to set the city we love on a different course. So we committed to a 10-year initiative and called it City Alive.
As we close out 2018 and our 5th year, we take a brief look back on where we came from and what has been completed so far, and we hone our focus on the next steps: closing the gaps in our communities.
Where we came from:
City Alive was born in early 2014 when Albuquerque was chosen as one of five cities in the U.S. to participate in the second cohort of the Living Cities Integration Initiative. Living Cities is a collective of 18 of the world’s largest foundations and banks. They work with leaders in cities across the country to improve the economic well-being of low-income people. The exciting news of this new opportunity for Albuquerque catalyzed what would become a cross-sector effort to fundamentally change the course of Albuquerque’s economy.
Albuquerque’s original hypothesis was that by cultivating a “grow our own” mentality and a climate for building jobs from within, we would be able to capitalize on entrepreneurial energy and harness the resources and assets we already have right here. We needed to move away from a tendency to create low-wage jobs to create quality jobs, economic mobility and shared prosperity. We needed to become ecosystem builders that would create the right environment where entrepreneurs could develop and florish. Through a process that engaged over 100 community leaders, we mapped, we discussed, we strategized, and, through much work, we came up with a plan to shift to supporting homegrown job creation.
City Alive has been working to implement and adapt that plan to the current conditions of our economy. And things are improving.
What we have accomplished:
In January of 2014, Albuquerque's total job count was 371,100 with a 6.1% unemployment rate. We were near the bottom of the national rankings for economic health. This year, we have some bright spots to celebrate. Albuquerque hit its highest job count in 10 years in October, indicating a recovery from the Great Recession. With 403,500 jobs and a 4.3% unemployment rate, our economy is finding its footing. Albuquerque families have access to more income and more opportunities, and entrepreneurs are steadily growing their businesses.
The success of an economy is dependant on many factors, many of which are not in our direct control. But there are a few ways that City Alive has partnered on or catalyzed programs that are, degree by degree, business by business, making a difference.
- We have witnessed the Molino Project take off. Molino brings leadership and community partners together to better support immigrant, refugee and marginalized entrepreneurs across Albuquerque as they build businesses and succeed. With the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Albuquerque Community Foundation and Wells Fargo Bank, the NM Dream Team and Molino were awarded grants to implement a Community Navigator program this past year.
- The Tech Navigator program launched and has supported dozens of entrepreneurs, scientists and the future-minded pioneers of New Mexico. The program helps them navigate the available resources in order to bring their ideas to the marketplace. Tech Navigator holds office hours every Wednesday at Fat Pipe after 1 Million Cups.
- The Co-op Capital project, a relationship-based micro-lending program offered in partnership with Nusenda Credit Union, has channeled nearly $664,000 in small loans to nearly 400 aspiring businesspeople. The project was named a top 25 Innovation in American Government by Harvard's Ash Center on Democratic Governance and Innovation.
Partners at City Alive have also built out programs of their own in alignment with City Alive and our shared mission to support homegrown entrepreneurs and change systems with racial and income equity in mind:
- Through the Mayor’s Prize for Entrepreneurship, the Albuquerque Community Foundation awarded almost half a million dollars to six nonprofits that work to build and grow local businesses in Albuquerque.
- UNM’s new Innovation Academy, which launched in 2015, received 420 students in its first year. They expected 15. The Innovation Academy (iA) is an approach to transforming higher education that aligns with City Alive’s approach to transforming our economy.
- UNM and CNM built an unprecedented partnership through their 2+1+2 program. The program allows students to get their associates, bachelors and masters degree in just five years and saves residents on average $23,600 in tuition and fees, making education more accessible to students on an alternative path.
Where we are headed:
With the new year, we take a fresh look at closing the gaps. This year we nearly reached our 10-year goals (in only five years, no less), which asked us to reassess the targets we originally set. Our headline goal was creating 10,000 net new jobs. Strictly looking at job count from 2014-2018 we can see a growth of 32,400 jobs. If we are just counting jobs, we hit the mark a long time ago. But there is a lot of ambiguity and complexity around how jobs are created, not to mention how they’re counted. While this goal was well-intentioned, it was not fitting. Beyond the near impossibility of measuring 10,000 net new jobs accurately, our first goal did not directly address equity, a cornerstone of our work. It was implied, but that is not enough.
After reflection on where Albuquerque’s entrepreneurial ecosystem sits today, five years later, and where we hope to go in the next years, we’ve set our sights on closing racial wealth, employment and business ownership gaps in underrepresented, underserved, and underestimated populations. Together, City Alive leaders and community partners are committed to learning, building programs and changing systems to better support homegrown businesses and leaders across our city. That means more training and skill development opportunities, increased access to capital, improved systems for business registration, more opportunities to access large contracts with institutions like the City of Albuquerque, and better access to the significant research and technology resources right here like Sandia National Labs, the Air Force Research Labs and the research minds at the University of New Mexico.
City Alive’s new goal directly addresses areas where Albuquerque continues to need focused effort and game-changing solutions. Our new goal is: Working together to close the gap in business ownership and leadership with a focus on people of color.
Creating an ecosystem requires you to continually evaluate where you have strengths and where system constraints still exist.
As we move into the next five years of the Initiative, we will continue our collaborative effort bringing together leaders in every sector of government, business, education, nonprofit and philanthropy to support the people who are growing jobs right here at home. We know that together we can think smarter, remove barriers and create a better environment where entrepreneurs build businesses and succeed. By deciding on a set of collective objectives, we can fortify the entrepreneurial ecosystem being built and make it more accessible to all.
Here is to the future, and to continuing our work toward the Albuquerque we know we can be.
We are collaborative, and we don’t get there without you.
Happy holidays to all. May the joy of the season stay with you throughout the year.
Chief Executive Strategist, City Alive
Connect The Dots:
What is City Alive, anyway? City Alive is unusual. It isn’t an organization. It isn’t a project. What City Alive is, really, is a partnership. It is a belief in motion that our city can enter a new age of prosperity by working together. It is made up of 16 organizations and institutions that volunteer their time, talent and leadership to create better circumstances, systems and opportunities for homegrown entrepreneurs and businesses to succeed. Alongside City Alive’s 16 leadership members, amazing community partners lend their on-the-ground expertise to realize solutions that, degree by degree, move us closer to our dream for an Albuquerque that reaches its full potential as a place to live, work and prosper — for all.