Economic Development 101

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By Sherry Robinson

It’s another beautiful day in the Land of Enchantment.
This is the way Bob Hoffman, the Dean of Economic Development in New Mexico, opened all his meetings.
If your skies aren’t blue, and your view of the horizon is hazy with wild-fire smoke, you might not agree, but Bob would convince you that beneath the smaze (yes, that’s a word), it’s still beautiful.
Bob Hoffman, who created jobs across the state at times when it seemed impossible, has passed on, but his words are still gold.
Bob had a passion for New Mexico almost from the moment he arrived at Holloman Air Force Base in 1950. His early career in radio broadcast and marketing gave him sales skills; that and his enthusiasm made him a force of nature.
In Alamogordo, he headed the chamber of commerce and started the state’s first local Economic Development Commission to ease that city’s dependence on the base.
He did the same thing in Portales in 1955. While managing a radio station, he brought in a plant that made sausage skins, but turnover was high, and the town wasn’t supporting it.
Hoffman told the manager to pay everybody in $2 bills and not checks. As the bills circulated around town, the plant’s impact was visible, and from then on the operation enjoyed support and a steady labor supply.
In the 1960s Gov. Jack Campbell tapped Bob to become the state’s first director of economic development and tourism. When the military announced the closure of Walker Air Force Base in 1967, Campbell sent Bob to Roswell to assure residents it wasn’t the end of the world. He gave three speeches in one day, assuring them the base’s empty buildings and runways were an asset, not a liability.
Recruited by Roswell city leaders, he was again chamber president and established the Roswell Industrial Development Corp. In six years, he recruited operations to the vacant base and persuaded Eastern New Mexico University and a balky Legislature that some of those buildings would make a good branch campus.
When Pan Am was considering the former base for pilot training, Bob persuaded schools to dismiss students early and turned out the town, including NMMI’s band, to stand at the airport with signs: “We want Pan Am.” Even the theater marquis carried the message. He and the city repeated this feat with Boeing.
Roswell was always the biggest feather in his cap.
“I did try to do my best each place I lived,” he said in 2008.In Albuquerque he was chamber president and then executive director of Economic Forum, an executives’ group, from its founding in 1982 until his retirement in 2007.
Wherever he was, he became the go-to guy for that community. As one politico put it, “Bob Hoffman was one of the people you went to, to find the pulse of a community.” And he was legendary for raising money, whether to promote a bond issue or a new road.
This is community development the Hoffman way: An empty building is an opportunity. Small towns tend to panic if an employer leaves; to Bob it was a chance to recruit a better employer. That was the salesman talking, but it was true.
“He never divided the community” but got people to work together and multiplied their efforts, said his old friend Chuck Lanier. He could talk about community needs without getting bogged down in problems, and his objective was always getting something done. The big lesson: Keep trying something new; don’t just do everything the old way.
Right now, the hangover from the recession is more of a threat than the recession itself. In the fear and gloom it’s easier to fall back on what used to work. Bob Hoffman would tell us to stop whining and get creative.

Sherry Robinson
© New Mexico News Services 2011