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Let’s Get Together

Discussing Santa Fe’s challenges and opportunities is a crucial first step

March 14, 2012, 12:00 am

The person: During his 27-year career at food service distributing giant Sysco, Rick Schnieders rose through the ranks to become the president and CEO of one of the country’s largest corporations. In 2009, Schnieders retired. He later moved to Santa Fe where, together with his wife Beth, he runs MoGro, a “mobile grocery” that delivers fresh, healthy food offerings to several of the pueblos around Santa Fe.

The plan: Start a meaningful conversation about Santa Fe’s future economy by organizing and engaging small, diverse groups of local residents. Schnieders says the groups would first address the question of what Santa Feans consider the key issues; the question of what changes are necessary would come later.

How it works: First things first: “Figure out a way to get small groups—small mixed groups—together to begin to have this conversation,” Schnieders says. “Even though fundamental change will take time, I think that out of that process, pretty quickly, there could be some quick wins, some easy wins, some pilots that could be tried that wouldn’t necessarily have to be terribly expensive.” These pilots could be anything from city-subsidized rent for entrepreneurs to a plan to create physically healthier urban environments; the important thing, Schnieders says, is “to make people feel like the conversation is not just about a conversation going nowhere, that we can effect some early change and then think about the broader issues and the bigger vision for the community.”

It sounds great, but who (or what) should lead such an effort? 

Schnieders isn’t sure, but he offers a few points of guidance in the search for a potential leader or group of leaders.

“We wouldn’t want it personality-based,” he cautions, because if the one person serving as the project’s linchpin left, the entire thing could fall apart. “It really needs to be something that is in the heart and soul of the community,” Schnieders explains. “Now, I think it will take political leaders’ involvement, definitely, but the political folks don’t need to be at the core of it. I think that would be, actually, a mistake.”

Although Schnieders recognizes that political leadership can be a powerful catalyst—and he acknowledges that, in many cases, it has worked in Santa Fe—he also says the political system can impede progress for even the most well-conceived initiatives.

“I think there has to be an incentive for the process to continue on, and I think what we have is an inverse and perverse incentive in the sense that these election cycles are so short,” Schnieders says. “So once a person gets elected, they get in office—they’re worried about getting elected the next time.”

Bottom line: Schnieders hopes the process of involving a broad spectrum of Santa Feans and asking them two basic questions—What are the issues? What should change?—can be community-driven, “fairly methodical” and productive. Now, to start that process…

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