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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Building Up America; New Mexico
Aired July 4, 2010 - 16:28 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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TOM FOREMAN, CNN HOST (voice-over): The great Wide West was the land of opportunity for pioneers, and it still is. Folks here are hearing the creaks and rumbles in the economy as much as anyone else. But they're also moving ahead despite all that, through technology, the arts, agriculture and so much more, BUILDING UP AMERICA in their own western way.
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FOREMAN: Welcome onboard the CNN Express, rolling through the land of enchantment. I'm Tom Foreman.
New Mexico is geographically a vast state, but in terms of its economy, not so much. It's quite small compared to some of its powerful neighbors. There are only about 2 million people living here.
But they have an endless supply of stories to tell about how they are trying to build up in these down times, and that's where we begin, with a man who believes in the power of stories to help people on their way to recovery.
FOREMAN (voice-over): A bit more than a year ago, M.E. Sprengelmeyer had every reason to give up on the economy, the West and especially newspapers.
M.E. SPRENGELMEYER, NEWSPAPERMAN: We just walked around the whole day with tears in our eyes.
FOREMAN: After 10 years of reporting for Denver's "Rocky Mountain News", he and his colleagues were shocked to find it shutting down.
SPRENGELMEYER: That was a special place and it was a damn good newspaper.
FOREMAN: But rather than retreat, he charged straight down to his home state of New Mexico, an unusual choice, perhaps, as a place to rebuild a career. The economy here has been struggling with steep job losses in mining, manufacturing, construction -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's dead. Nothing really going on. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say it's very hard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could find one, but it's - it's going - it's going to be tough.
FOREMAN: But in the little town of Santa Rosa, Sprengelmeyer found a newspaper for sale, and with every last dollar he had, he bought it.
FOREMAN (on camera): Was this a wise decision?
SPRENGELMEYER: It's the best thing I ever did. Best thing I ever did.
FOREMAN (voice-over): He says that because no matter what he is covering each day, he and his small staff are making a go of it. While other papers are dramatically cutting their costs, Sprengelmeyer increased his staff payroll by 40 percent, adding more pages, more photos, more stories.
He killed the paper's website, arguing that it hurt street sales, and, through all of that, he rebuilt the paper's relationship with its readers.
SPRENGELMEYER: The community hangs on every story. The community hangs on every cartoon.
FOREMAN: So now, when he lampoons a local tourist attraction, a famous diving hole, even business folks who rely on it for a living seem to enjoy the joke.
SPRENGELMEYER: You like the cartoon?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is - I like it. I'm going to keep all of these.
FOREMAN: It's tough work. One night a week, he drives 100 miles each way to pick up his papers from a printer, and many more nights, he and his staff work far into the darkness, all to keep expenses down and quality up.
SPRENGELMEYER: Those things the readers don't notice, but what they sure as heck notice is that a lot of these big city newspapers are getting thinner and thinner and thinner.
FOREMAN: While his paper is getting thicker. And the result? Subscriptions, street sales and advertising are all up, up, up.
SPRENGELMEYER: This is the big lesson that you can apply to any paper in the country. It's working here because I'm spending more, not less.
FOREMAN: And because while other papers are folding all over, here everyone knows every morning, M.E. Sprengelmeyer and his team will be back on the beat.
FOREMAN: M.E. says given time, he will try to bring back the internet site for his newspaper, but only when he's sure it will help the business grow and help his community keep building up.
FOREMAN (voice-over): New Mexico has given the world some truly news-making moments over the years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire.
FOREMAN: The first atomic bomb was developed here in the hidden mountain laboratories of Los Alamos. Down on the plains in Roswell, the legendary rocket scientist Robert Goddard developed some of the most important theories about man's space light. And, of course, many years after that, his old stomping grounds produced some of the most sensational alleged UFO sitings.
But this state is still a technology leader, and in one particular area, it is truly poised to take off these days.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SINGING).
FOREMAN: With easily more than 300 days of sunshine each year, New Mexico is one of the sunniest states in the country, and there's a wave of solar energy companies coming to set up shop. One of the biggest? Schott Solar.
FOREMAN (on camera): And ever since this German-owned company opened this massive complex on the south side of Albuquerque, they have been energizing the local jobs market.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Amid the whir of robots in this 175,000- square-foot plant, workers are churning out solar cells and related technology as fast as they can and their products are going out the door just as quickly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a growing technology and there's a demand for it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We basically sell everything that we produce.
FOREMAN (on camera): You feel good about it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Personally, I see a - I see a future here.
FOREMAN (voice-over): It's no accident. Up in the capital, Sante Fe, another fellow believes he can see the future, too.
BILL RICHARDSON, (D), GOVERNOR OF NEW MEXICO: Am I always right or what?
CHILDREN: Yes. FOREMAN: Governor Bill Richardson is pushing his state hard to recruit more and more solar companies.
RICHARDSON: I just concentrated like a laser on - on saying any solar entity, please come to New Mexico. We will do everything we can to recruit you. And it's working.
FOREMAN: The governor's philosophy is simple. His state has long been home to some of the federal government's most advanced scientific and military labs. A great deal of technical expertise is already here. Combine that with new companies on the leading edge of a green revolution, and the result, 2,500 new jobs already this year as more companies follow Schott Solar's lead.
JIM STEIN, SCHOTT SOLAR: Well, Governor Richardson and his cabinet rolled out the welcome mat in a lot of ways. They provided all manner of incentives for us. They provided tax incentives on the property, training incentives.
FOREMAN (on camera): What is your best hope for all of this? What do you hope people say 20 years from now about this idea?
RICHARDSON: That New Mexico, despite its small size, became the solar capital of America. That's my goal. And I think we're on our way.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Solar is still a tiny sliver of the U.S. energy market, but this state is intent on grabbing a big share of that, convinced it will mean a lot of jobs, money and bright days ahead.
FOREMAN: This is really about long-term planning. The governor and everyone else here will readily admit solar and all the other green technologies have a long way to go. But they believe they are positioning themselves to be in the lead down the road.
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FOREMAN (voice-over): Next, coming soon to a theater near you, New Mexico lights up the film and TV industry in a big way, and the payoff is huge.
ERIC WITT, NEW MEXICO DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF AND FILM POLICY ADVISOR: They're spending about $300 million a year here.
FOREMAN: And mixing it up. The secret life of Santa Fe that has young professionals feeling very positive.
ZANE FISCHER, MIX SANTA FE: All it takes is a little nudge to get people together and realize that their work can transform or enliven a place.
FOREMAN: when BUILDING UP AMERICA continues.
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FOREMAN: A good many famous faces have come out of New Mexico - hotel magnate Conrad Hilton; racing superstar Al Unser; and notorious bad boy Billy the Kid, too, at least according to legend. Actor Neil Patrick Harris is from Albuquerque; the late John Denver and Demi Moore both came from Roswell.
And of course, oceans of stars have visited. Many used to stay at the famous El Rancho Inn on old Route 66. Their pictures still grace the walls there, harkening back to the glory days of Hollywood when the western was king and western places like this one were the stuff dreams were made of.
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FOREMAN: Movie-making has always been about big dreams, but some years back, officials here had their own dream about what the movie business could mean to this state. And the result? Lights, cameras and a lot of action.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no - whoa!
FOREMAN (voice-over): What do "Transformers", "Indiana Jones" -
HARRISON FORD, ACTOR: Damn. I thought that was closer.
FOREMAN: -- and "No Country for Old Men" have in common?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, this is just a deal gone wrong, isn't it?
FOREMAN: They were all made in New Mexico.
FOREMAN (on camera): The film industry here is just going gangbusters.
WITT: It really is.
FOREMAN (voice-over): And in the capital, the governor's man in charge of film, Eric Witt, is delighted.
WITT: It's helped a lot of people in our local economy, not just film but all the related industries.
FOREMAN (on camera): And what is this place right here?
WITT: This is the establishment called Evangelos, one of the more famous bars here in Santa Fe. It's been here for about 40 years.
In this bar, they shot "Crazy Heart". FOREMAN (voice-over): New Mexico has built this love affair with film through an aggressive campaign that started seven years ago. That's when the state began offering big rebates to filmmakers who would come and hire local workers, buy local products and use local facilities, like the sprawling new sound stages just outside of Albuquerque.
In addition, the state can help cover salaries for local folks being trained for film jobs. As a result, the number of skilled film workers here has gone from 100 to 3,000.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's very high-paying jobs, great benefits.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As the construction has really slowed down, this has really been a good - good way to fill that - that economic void for jobs.
FOREMAN: This is not an utterly new idea. Thomas Edison's picture company made the first film here more than a century ago, and in the '20s and '30s, cowboy films rode all over the New Mexico range.
FOREMAN (on camera): But what is happening now is much bigger than what was happening back then, even bigger than what was happening 13 years ago when they had five films and video projects in this state. Last year, they had more than 40, and the number keeps growing.
FOREMAN (voice-over): The state estimates 10,000 jobs have been created on the sets and by the dozens of local businesses providing everything from catering to computer animation to big-spending filmmakers.
FOREMAN (on camera): Do you have any idea how much they're spending each year here?
WITT: They're spending about $300 million a year here right now in hard cash, generating about $1 billion a year now in economic activity as the money circulates through the local economy.
FOREMAN (voice-over): And that ride, by almost all accounts, is just beginning.
JEFF BRIDGES, ACTOR: Thanks for coming out. It's so good to be home.
FOREMAN: Some other states are also doing well attracting movie- makers and all those Hollywood dollars, notably, Louisiana. But New Mexico now claims to have more trained movie technicians living here than anywhere else outside of New York and Los Angeles. Not a bad trick.
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FOREMAN (voice-over): A little later, the young are coming out to play and stay in one of the west's oldest settlements.
And finding success in the fields, how the Navajo nation is not merely holding on, but building up against all the odds on likely the biggest farm you will ever see.
TSOSIE LEWIS, NAVAJO PRIDE: That's always been my dream and will be my dream for the rest of my life.
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FOREMAN (voice-over): Archaeological evidence suggests people started living in what we now call New Mexico more than 25,000 years ago. Today, the state is home to 22 indigenous tribes, including the Apaches, the Pueblos and the Navajos.
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FOREMAN: Here in the northwest corner of New Mexico, many native American populations have struggled for many years with soaring unemployment, much worse than most of us have ever seen in our lifetimes. But, not far from where I'm standing, on the Navajo nation, a unique program seems to be helping in a big way.
FOREMAN (voice-over): The years' first harvest of alfalfa is being cut in the northwest corner of New Mexico and Tsosie Lewis is pleased because for him each harvest brings what he believes his community needs most.
FOREMAN (on camera): You've just always believed that if you don't deliver quality, you don't have anything?
LEWIS: That is correct. Quality, quality, quality.
FOREMAN: That's what you believe in?
LEWIS: That's what I believe in, quality. Everything we do has to be quality.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Out in this arid and beautiful landscape, Lewis is CEO of the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry or NAPI, and he and his team have led a 10-year campaign to raise the quality and success of Navajo Pride products, annually producing more than $30 million worth of potatoes, corn, wheat, beans and even cattle.
LEWIS: You need to have a diversity in - in your operation. You just can't raise crops and that's all you can do.
FOREMAN: The Navajo nation is vast and sprawling, a country in its own right existing within and with the United States. Over the years, it has battled fierce economic problems. Leaders have encouraged more young Navajos to pursue higher education. That is helping build up this area, too, according to the president of the Navajo nation, Joe Shirley, Jr., who knows how much his community must rely on itself.
JOE SHIRLEY, PRESIDENT OF THE NAVAJO NATION: It's a - it's a big battle. It's an uphill battle. But during the recession now, it's - it's even worse. You know, jobs are really hard to find because of the economy's on the downturn throughout. You know, it's really hard to get businesses to come locate on Navajo land to do business, to create jobs.
FOREMAN: The NAPI team is a model of efficiency. Rigorous on- site soil and water testing protect quality and productivity. A computerized command center handles irrigation needs around the clock.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just make sure the farm is getting their water.
FOREMAN: Managers of each crop must turn at least 15 percent profit, the money going back into the farm or other tribal programs. And it all works. NAPI employs 1,200 full and part-time workers each year and has not had a single layoff in this recession. They run an aggressive training program for young Navajos and have earned the highest honor - the respect of their own community.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm proud of being a Navajo, proud of who we are, proud of this farm, how far it came, you know?
FOREMAN (on camera): Do you like working here?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I do. I plan on retiring here.
FOREMAN: So just how big is this operation? Well, look at it this way. All of the land that you can see, 30 miles east to west, 20 miles north to south, is all part of this farm.
FOREMAN (voice-over): But for Tsosie Lewis, it is even bigger. As a young man, outsiders told him his tribe could never succeed at a business like this.
LEWIS: Well, I stand here today with 99.9 percent Navajos operating our own farm. That is success to me. That's always been my dream and will be my dream for the rest of my life.
FOREMAN: It's impossible to convey just how impressive this effort is and how much excitement there is in the Navajo nation over this area where they feel they are taking on the recession and winning.
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FOREMAN (voice-over): In just a moment, building up community spirit and a whole town's hopes for prosperity, one party and one young professional at a time. BUILDING UP AMERICA continues.
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FOREMAN (voice-over): Santa Fe is one of the oldest settlements in all of the west and it draws thousands of older tourists interested in all of that history. That's good for some businesses, but not so much for some young professionals.
DANIEL WERWATH, MIX SANTA FE: I've been here about seven years and probably, you know, every summer see around a dozen friends move on for jobs or more opportunity, often in, you know, more exciting places like New York or Portland, Oregon and places like that.
FOREMAN: And that's where MIX comes in. These are the founding members and this is MIX, part free-form social club, part business networking group, part town hall meeting.
MIX is a once a month party in which young people are urged to meet, have fun and share ideas about what they want their community to be.
LACIE MACKEY, MIX SANTA FE: And the idea is if you do get people involved in that, they feel more invested in the community and they do want to stay and they do want to invest their time here.
FOREMAN: To make that happen, MIX, which has the backing of the city and the Chamber of Commerce, poses a question or challenge which participants answer on video. The best answer gets a prize.
Ciaran Clark hopped up one night to explain how he'd use a $200 prize to help disadvantaged teens with job training, particularly in green industries.
CIARAN CLARK, YOUTHWORKS: And with $200, I would start a t-shirt company for youth who can help -
FOREMAN: He got the money, his group, YouthWorks, used it to make t-shirts to sell at the next MIX event to raise more money to provide more training. Everyone wins.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were trying to train these kids in that industry so they kind of have a - a foot ahead, maybe, you know, when it comes down to finding a job in the green industry for them. They'll have the experience, hopefully.
FOREMAN: But MIX gets something out of the process, too, a steady stream of information about what matters to the young people in this town.
FOREMAN (on camera): In many ways this is really about a very old-fashioned idea, getting people to invest in each other, to pay attention to local schools, to look at local issues, to settle down and call this home.
KATE NOBLE, MIX SANTA FE: Well, it makes for a much more active, proactive and involved community. You get more responsive local government.
FISCHER: It feels like we're on the cusp of a sort of a creative, innovation-based economy and I think that, you know, all it takes is a little nudge to get people together.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Or even to keep notoriously restless young people happy and here.
FOREMAN: And, with that, we say so long to the land of enchantment.
We hope you've seen some ideas here that might help your community build up. For all of us on the CNN Express, I'm Tom Foreman. We'll see you down the line.