by Juliana Vadnais, Albuquerque Business First

The annual Kids Count data book released today shows New Mexico with the highest childhood poverty rate in the country. The state has a long way to go in order to make improvements, and some business leaders have advice on where to start.

“Stats or data points like this don’t bode well for our state,” said Peter Sanchez, CEO of The Atrisco Companies. “The business community has to help create a higher degree of wealth in the state.”

A greater emphasis on education, particularly early childhood education, is one area Sanchez points to as a starting point to reversing the state’s problems.

“We need to put a greater level of support into the educational process,” Sanchez said. “We need to then continue that support into [elementary] education and beyond.”

With the start of the 2015 Legislature now in session, groups like the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce are pushing for policies that will help education and children. Terri Cole, president and CEO of the chamber, said the group will focus on promoting policies that will “improve these dismal rankings: creating good jobs, ending social promotion, rewarding exemplary teachers, helping struggling schools and a big push toward enhancing public safety — especially for our children.”

Jason Espinoza, president of the Association of Commerce and Industry, says that the state of the economy plays a big role in the well-being of children.

“ACI recognizes that job creation and economic growth play a vital role in the well-being of our children and the success of our educational system,” Espinoza said.

Sanchez says the state needs to focus on growing business within the state, an ongoing discussion in the community.
“It’s not about bringing people here, it’s about developing businesses in the state,” Sanchez said. “Poverty exists because there is a lack of opportunity. We need to work ourselves out of this spot we are in now.”

Espinoza echoed the need for economic growth to create opportunity that will lead to better opportunities for children.
“The rankings emphasize the need for the lawmakers to continue to prioritize legislation that will create a more business-friendly environment across the state in order to promote job growth and create economic opportunities,” Espinoza said.

Copyright 2016, Albuquerque Business First (