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Survey, focus groups aim to boost New Mexico competitiveness

Marylou Ligier takes a to-go order to a patron at her family’s restaurant and pastry shop Clafoutis on Monday in Santa Fe, New Mexico. An outdoor tent, seen in the reflection of a pastry case, was installed three weeks ago in the parking lot after indoor seating was banned due to COVID-19. Ligier says the tent rental costs thousands of dollars each month, nearly amounting to a second mortgage.

ALBUQUERQUE – One of New Mexico’s largest economic development advocacy groups has launched an online survey to take the temperature of business owners and others on everything from taxes to public safety, broadband access and transportation infrastructure.

The goal is to use the results and a series of upcoming focus groups to develop recommendations for lawmakers on how the state can better boost the competitiveness of businesses. The push comes as many shops, restaurants and other operations face ongoing pressures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and public health mandates.

“This process is not designed to be a competing narrative with the public health orders, but to better position New Mexico to come out of COVID strong so that we can take advantage of potential growth opportunities,” said Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry.

The survey, which went live Monday and will run through Sept. 4, has the backing of companies such as computer chip manufacturer Intel along with some of the state’s largest utilities, banks and credit unions, and New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico.

The focus groups that will start in September will look a potential growth sectors for the economy, including aerospace and defense, tourism and outdoor recreation, agriculture, trade along the international border and new energy infrastructure.

The association plans to have a final report and recommendations completed in December, with some preliminary results being presented to interim legislative committees in the late fall to ensure the conversation is going before lawmakers meet in January for their next regular session.

Some business leaders have been frustrated with closures and other limits that have been placed on businesses since the pandemic began. There have been legal fights over fines and the extent of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s authority, including one pending before the New Mexico Supreme Court. Arguments are scheduled in that case Wednesday.

At a family-owned restaurant and pastry shop in Santa Fe, the financial strain of COVID-19 can be seen in the parking lot in the form of a large white tent. Waiters in masks, bowties fashioned from wood and suspenders ferried food and drinks across empty indoor dining rooms to the tent and four tables on the patio.

The tent costs around $3,000 a month to rent.

“It’s almost like you’re paying another mortgage,” says Marylou Ligier, a server at Clafoutis and daughter of owner Anne-Laure Ligier.

Patrons still come inside for pickup orders like sandwiches, espresso drinks and the eponymous clafoutis, a fruit-filled buttery pastry with a touch of flan.

State officials indicated during a recent briefing that although daily case counts have come down and other metrics are being met, no major changes in the public health order are expected.

New Mexico has reported 24,535 cases and 750 deaths since the pandemic began. State health officials on Tuesday also noted that more than 728,620 tests have been done around the state.

Associated Press/Report for America writer Cedar Attanasio contributed to this report.