Like many people who move to Santa Fe, businessmen Alan Butcher and John Bowen had a dream. Experienced in the scientific, high-tech field of heat and temperature control, the two started a company here in 1989 called Vapor Technology, Inc. (VTI), and plunged promptly into developing a variety of innovative new products.
One of these products was a plastic, box-like device, called an autoclave, in which dentists sterilize their instruments…
According to their business plan, VTI would create up to 500 new manufacturing jobs in Santa Fe over a five-year period, including positions for machine operators, assemblers, clerks and technicians. Butcher and Bowen foresaw the company’s annual income reaching $11.3 million within five years, on total sales of more than $72 million. That was their dream.
As it turned out, however, none of it would happen.
Although their business plan was hailed by local experts, the two entrepreneurs, after a long series of frustrations, gave up on Santa Fe and left the state.
Their story underlines a major reason why the local economy is stagnating when it comes to providing jobs in manufacturing: there is a severe shortage here of start-up capital and other inducements for new ventures. This gap is acting like a “lead foot” on New Mexico’s growth, observers say, because manufacturing typically creates higher-paying jobs than the government and service sectors, which now dominate the state’s economy.
That’s particularly true in Santa Fe County, where manufacturing accounts for less than 3 percent of all jobs—compared to 18 percent for the nation as a whole.
In Santa Fe, and the rest of New Mexico, start-up ventures are hobbled by the state constitution’s so-called anti-donation clause, which generally prevents the use of public money to benefit private enterprises. But, in addition, critics contend, state investment officials have exacerbated the situation by refusing to award any of New Mexico’s public venture-capital funds to New Mexico entrepreneurs.
Moreover, they add, the state economic development apparatus is focused too heavily on providing services to new businesses, rather than on trying to meet their capital needs. As a result of all this, they say, New Mexico is losing the battle for good new jobs to more aggressive, more innovative economic developers in other states.