A New Mexico Innovation Triangle, LLC slide from a presentation to legislators showing the sites of two proposed Innovative Villages in Los Alamos.
A slide from NMIT’s presentation showing what is presumed to be the area between Trinity Drive and Central Avenue in Los Alamos.
A map showing the proposed Innovation Triangle from the NMIT presentation.
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
John Rizzo, founder and CEO of New Mexico Innovation Triangle, LLC, was on the agenda Thursday for the Legislature’s Revenue Stabilization & Tax Policy Committee where he addressed the company’s goals for “Innovative Villages” in New Mexico, including two in Los Alamos.
The Los Alamos Innovation Village East, according to slides presented by Rizzo would include the Hilltop House Hotel and the Mari Mac Shopping Center but appears to include a lot more property not currently owned by NMIT. Currently, NMIT appears to only own the former Hilltop House property. A contract between NMIT and Kroger for the Mari Mac Village Shopping Center area was allowed to expire and there has been no mention of a new deal.
The location of the Los Alamos Innovation Village West, according to the slides, appears to be in the area of Central Park Square behind the current Pet Pangaea store, on property owned by Philip Kunsberg according to Los Alamos County records. The Los Alamos Reporter attempted to reach Kunsberg for comment Wednesday afternoon with no success.
While NMIT is promoting Innovation Villages to state legislators, it has appealed a resolution by Los Alamos County Council declaring the former Hilltop House, where NMIT is trying to build “a menace to the public comfort, health, peace, and safety” and ordering the removal of the building along with associated ruins, rubbish, wreckage and debris from the County. NMIT’s attorney told the Los Alamos Reporter that it will not give the reason for the appeal until the Dec. 3 hearing before Council.
On October 18, Los Alamos Fire Marshall declared that the building is “a clear and inimical threat to human life, safety and health”. NMIT was order to immediately fence off the building, however by November 16, County officials said the proposed location of the fence had been staked and they were expecting a permit application. Rizzo has indicated to the Reporter that he expected the fencing problem to be completed by now if the Thanksgiving holiday did not get in the way. Meanwhile, only yellow caution tape has been placed.
If the County Council denies NMIT’s appeal on the former Hilltop House property, the County can continue under the authority given to it under state law to address the building and debris. The County maintains the building is “ruined, damaged and dilapidated from a lack of regular maintenance and damage that the structure is now unsafe and a threat to the public’s health, safety and welfare”. The resolution says no timely action has been taken NMIT to remove the building, its ruins, rubbish, wreckage and debris from the County. It would require the parcel to be left in a “clean, level, and safe condition suitable for further occupancy or construction with all excavations filled” by March 30, 2022.
If NMIT fails to commence removing the building and debris as outlined in the resolution, the County could obtain a District Court order and proceed to remove the building and debris at the expense of NMIT. The reasonable cost of the removal incurred by the County would constitute a lien against the property which could be foreclosed as provided in state law.
Rizzo’s 49-page presentation to the legislators echoed his comments to the Reporter in August when he said the former Hilltop House location plans were 90 percent complete and that NMIT was working on the architectural plans.
Rizzo told the Committee NMIT wants to build what it refers to now as the New Mexico Innovation Triangle, which he said is a triangle that connects Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Los Alamos with three national labs, “over a million people in the labor shed, a tremendous amount of population which allows us to build a new economy”.
“The strategy is to build these three innovation villages which are highly dense work/play environments to essentially create new capital formation initiatives to bring new start-ups to the state and to encourage people in the state who are bright and have a lot of energy to start their own companies which are great job creators, to transform and help the education system, create more graduates that could work in these companies and also most importantly, to prevent the young people that grew up in New Mexico and have been here for centuries from feeling they have to leave the state because they can’t get a good job or can’t find a place to live,” Rizzo said.
He said the problem to be addressed is pretty severe, that the census showed that older people are coming into New Mexico and younger people are leaving.
“This creates tremendous pressure on the growth of the business and the state and over time, if we don’t do something to adjust this, then the population will begin to shrink. As we all know shrinking populations don’t create a lot of economic opportunity – they create a whole host of problems,” Rizzo said. “The challenges in New Mexico are not enough job growth, not enough investment capital, the education system doesn’t turn out graduates that are participants in new economies. This creates in my opinion tremendous opportunities for us to grow and accelerate the growth of our state.”
He said the pandemic creates tremendous opportunities for the state because now it’s been demonstrated that employees in innovation jobs can actually work from anywhere and don’t have to work where their company is. He noted that “there are hundreds of thousands of remote workers that are now enabled by broadband technology and can work from anywhere”.
“Technology and innovation is a great growth engine, and to the extent that we don’t have such a growth mechanism in New Mexico, despite the tremendous assets we have here with the national labs, with the streaming business and Netflix, our resilient work force and our culture, we will see ourselves suffer because of this lack of investment,” Rizzo said. “The problem we’re trying to solve is to create 25,000 incremental innovation jobs in New Mexico in the next 10 years. These 25,000 jobs will help diversify the economy, will help create another economic engine in addition to oil and gas and tourism and ultimately as a result create an economic development machine that enables a better quality of life for all New Mexicans regardless of whether or not they live in Albuquerque, Santa Fe or Las Cruces but all over the state.”
He said one tech job creates 6-7 additional jobs that surround it so even if someone is not working in a tech job that’s high-paying, they are creating jobs for a bunch of people around them and that an additional 100,000 jobs would come to support the 25,000 jobs.
Rizzo’s overview to the legislators says he believes the NMIT initiative will add $15 billion to the New Mexico Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and improve the lives of 10s of thousands of New Mexicans. His presentation also said Santa Fe would be an ideal location for an Innovation Village that would be mixed use and walkable. He said it would provide “modern, cool, hip living and post-COVID office space” as well as affordable housing, “restaurants, entertainment, groceries, exercise, views and light”.
Although said NMIT has no specific asks of the legislature at this time, it wants to encourage thinking now for the 2023 session. He listed the following:
- Surgically targeted tax reform measures for specific sectors with tight guardrails
- Higher Education investments per sector
- Dedicated Venture Capital funds, per sector
- Funds to drive the expansion if the idea and implementation
- Support Rail Runner enhancements to build a transit corridor between Mesa del Sol and Santa Fe
- Encourage a regional approach rather than a silo’d city approach
Rizzo posed the question, “Is it worth giving up $4.9 million in capital gains taxes to attract 100 companies we don’t have in New Mexico to gain $50 million income taxes from employees at those companies”.
He noted that policy changes for individuals to live and work in New Mexico but remotely would include “student debt relief or conversion to a lower rate” and “no capital gains on stock options”. For companies to create offices in New Mexico, he added gross receipts tax credits for office leases. He listed policy changes for companies to invest in education and diversity in New Mexico as GRT credits for investment curriculum, paid internships and mentoring as well as accelerated GRT for training of targeted under-represented groups.
Rizzo also suggested policy changes to drive new company formation as follows:
- Student debt relief, or conversion to a lower rate
- No capital gains on stock options
- GRT credits for office space leases
- GRT credits for in curriculum, paid internships, mentoring
- Accelerated GRT credits for training if targeted under-represented groups
- Targeted venture funds, and
- Broader application and scope of job training incentive programs
A slide from the NMIT presentation to state legislators.
A slide from the NMIT presentation to state legislators.