Clean Energy Companies Heat Up Albuquerque Economy
Greater Albuquerque is on the map as a hub for clean energy companies that are diversifying an already technology-rich economy.
This robust sector made Albuquerque 52nd among 100 metro areas for the number of clean energy jobs – employing an estimated 9,900 workers. The Brookings Institute survey ranked the region even higher with respect to the intensity of its clean energy sector and job growth between 2003 and 2010, which averaged 7.8 percent annually. On that measure, Albuquerque ranked 10th.
Conservation is the largest and fastest-growing segment of Albuquerque's renewable energy industry, but strong clusters of solar, thermal and green building companies are growing, too. Natural resources, human capital and reasonable costs of doing business are among the draws for companies. Proximity to Sandia National Laboratories and Kirkland Air Force Base are other key factors.
"There is such a high proliferation of engineers, and with Sandia and the universities, Albuquerque has become an incubator for alternative energy," says Christopher Larocca, COO of EMCORE, whose high-efficiency solar panels are powering the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, expected to land on the red planet in August 2012. "We have really enjoyed our stay here because of the talent and the close relationship we have with representatives of other institutions."
EMCORE, in fact, got its start with technology developed at Sandia more than a decade ago and government-funded contracts to develop better solar panels for aerospace applications. That technology is now finding its way back to earth.
Solar Companies Shine
Central New Mexico is tailor-made for clean energy companies.
“We have huge open spaces, good in-ground natural resources, and we attract people who think of the need to do this differently,” says Kyle Lee, COO of MIOX Corp., which produces water purification technologies now deployed to more than 1,500 sites in three dozen countries.
Both established companies and start-ups are making their mark.
Schott Solar AG operates a flagship facility in the region for manufacturing photovoltaic modules and receivers for concentrated solar panels. Array Technologies makes solar tracking equipment. Solar energy contractors like 310 Solar, named for the city's annual average 310 days of sun, and Sacred Power, which made a recent list of fastest-growing inner city businesses in Fortune magazine, are booming.
New energy startups include CFV Solar Test Laboratory, a photovoltaic certification test company that hopes to speed up entry for solar panel manufacturers into North American and international markets. Bye UAS is building its solar-powered unmanned aircraft systems in the region.
Businesses Partner with Local Labs
Companies small and large benefit from applied research at Sandia and the University of New Mexico. With technology transfer programs that help commercialize new ideas, both labs are economic development powerhouses.
The region’s culture creates companies that can grow and remain nimble. MIOX launched with a military focus, developing water purification systems for aircraft carriers. Now it has systems for purifying water used in projects that range from treating the entire water supply of Bogota, Colombia, to a backyard swimming pool.
“We get incredible pull to diverse locations to fulfill a demand that is always there,” Lee says.
Albuquerque has its own pull.
"It is not a difficult place to recruit to," Larocca says. "Winters don't get too cold; summers don't get too hot. A lot of people really enjoy living here."
When EMCORE bought TechStar, a Los Angeles-based company, nearly 20 workers opted to transfer to Albuquerque. The lower cost of living allowed them to buy homes for the first time, he says. Folks higher up on the corporate ladder find the region just as attractive.
“People want to live here," says Lisa Kuuttila, president and CEO of the University of New Mexico Science and Technology Council. "We’ve been successful in attracting serial entrepreneurs."
Cereal Plant Takes Gold for Sustainability
An expansion of General Mills’ Albuquerque cereal plant is one of fewer than 10 food production facilities worldwide to earn LEED Gold certification for environmental sustainability. The facility was recognized for an aggressive program that includes near-elimination of waste paper, plastics, cardboard and packaging, use of a proprietary high-efficiency oven that greatly reduces energy consumption, and reduction of indoor water use and outdoor irrigation needs.
Additionally, General Mills loans bicycles to employees for commuting, provides bike lockers and reserves prime parking spots for vehicles with low emissions and/or high fuel efficiency. The first General Mills production facility and the fourth company building to earn LEED certification, the plant joins about 8,000 LEED-certified projects worldwide.