This summer, the city’s Economic Development Division is experimenting with a pilot internship program aimed at attracting younger people to Santa Fe’s professional scene. Chief among the organizers is Zack Quintero, a 23-year-old Las Cruces native and recent graduate of New Mexico State University.
What he came up with is an interesting mix of public and private support for young workers that could be a model for other government programs that often suffer from too much planning and too little action.
The internship program, conceived in the spring by city acting Housing and Community Development Department Director Kate Noble, offers college-aged students summer positions at the city and a number of local businesses.
Noble briefed Quintero about the internship idea and gave him free rein to make it work. Eighteen students had already applied for the city internship, and it was up to Quintero to try to match each student with a summer job related to the field they’re studying in college.
“We had a criteria where we matched them with their desired profession,” he says. “This is not a run-of-the-mill internship where you just scan documents.”
In early June, the city made an announcement that it was looking to partner with businesses to offer full-time summer jobs at the city’s $10.66 living wage rate. That’s when Quintero hit the phones, contacting roughly 25 businesses to convince them to participate and doing his best to play Yenta for the students who applied.
In the end, six businesses took the bait: Modrall Sperling Law Firm, the Regional Development Corporation, Santa Fe Railyard Stewards, Studio X Development, Santa Fe Community Foundation and CENTER. The city also participated by offering eight positions in its tourism, economic development and public works offices.
Getting Modrall on board was particularly tough. Quintero says he contacted several law firms before matching Phil Davies, who recently graduated from NMSU with a journalism and Spanish degree and starts law school at the University of New Mexico next month, with Modrall, one of the state’s largest law firms.
Davies, also 23, spent the summer updating the law firm’s databases and shadowing attorneys at court hearings. An Albuquerque native, Davies says he never would have lived in Santa Fe were it not for the internship, which also provided him with free housing at a Santa Fe University of Art and Design dorm room. (The university housed seven of the 15 interns this summer in exchange for free bus passes for visiting students in its Artfest program.)
Throughout the summer, Davies says he grew to enjoy the city’s amenities like fine dining, outdoor hiking and cultural festivals.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunities in Santa Fe,” Davies says. “This is definitely a place I’ll be looking at when I graduate.”
This is exactly the scenario that Noble’s striving for—attracting young people to career opportunities in the City Different. But the limits of the city’s economy frequently present obstacles.
Gabriel Ortiz, a Santa Fe native who just graduated from NMSU with a mechanical engineering degree and who interned with the city’s Public Works Department, is wary that he’ll be able to find a full-time job in his field here. While many of his peers in mechanical engineering are getting job offers from big companies in places like Houston and Tucson, Santa Fe, he says, seems to cater more to arts and culture.
“Santa Fe is a great place to live, it really is,” Ortiz, 23, says, “but the types of jobs and the type of pay that’s related to science, technology, engineering and math—I guess you could find them here, but they’re more sparse.”
Mayor Javier Gonzales says the city is planning to try the summer internship program again next year and grow it to 80 to 100 students. Quintero, who this fall will begin studying for his master’s degree in international development at the University of Denver (he says he wants to come back to Santa Fe afterwards), recently wrote a review of the internship program that he’s planning to present to City Council later this month. He plans to ask councilors to allocate money next year to increase the interns’ pay above minimum wage.
A previous version of this article misstated intern Phil Davies' name and Zack Quintero's hometown, which is Las Cruces, not Santa Fe. SFR regrets the errors.