Happy New Year!

Robert Ruiz, El Paso Metro

Well, the Sun shines upon the Sun Bowl in 2001 and El Paso greets 2002 with strong optimism.  The shock of 911 is wearing off and in its stead remains vigilance, patriotism and resolve that it never happen again.  Talk of taxes recedes and dialogue about the future of the city is engaged by many groups in the city.  The Police and Fire are poised to accept a contract and a wage increase as are city employees. 2001 departs with the joy of the Sun Bowl.  The Purdue-Washington State match-up in beautiful El Paso weather continues the proud tradition.  Thanks to Wells Fargo, the successful event brings more resources to the city.

2001 departs with the patriotic resolve that terrorism is unacceptable anywhere against anyone.  Rudy Guiliani was named Person of the Year by Time magazine putting to rest the controversy over selecting unsavory candidates.  The Taliban was overthrown and Bin Laden is thought to be dead or dying.

2002 is a year that promises change.  The new city administration was elected in 2001 with a promise that it would not be business as usual at city hall.  Public employees will be remunerated consistent with the levels of other comparable cities.  The Border Health Institute is closer to becoming a reality with the adoption of Tax Increment Finance Districts (TIFs) and by maximizing the benefits derived from the designation of El Paso as an Empowerment Zone.

2002 is a year that promises greater cooperation.  City, county and state elected officials are on the same page with respect to what they want for the city.  “Fair Share”, “Education”, “BHI”, “Water” are a few of the topical themes that are often heard in the halls of government.  There is also a shared partisan bent that will help coordinate policy initiatives by the various players in local and state government.  Republican officials at the state level have shown themselves responsive to El Paso despite its Democratic voting tradition.  Except for the current debate over the legality of the Speaking Rock Casino, there seems to be a two-way street in communication between state Republicans and local Democratic officials.

2002 is a year that promises recovery.  911 and the world-wide economic impact of the event has exacerbated the local employment situation.  The Ciudad Juarez maquila industry has let go more than a quarter of their workforce.  El Paso unemployment which is normally higher than the rest of the country continues to rise.  Local retailers did not meet their holiday targets.  As a result, there has been a great deal of consolidation and closure of many small businesses.  Economic forecasters predict a lifting of the recession by mid-2002 although many are worried it may last longer.  That promised recovery is a pipe-dream to some business people.  They prefer to see the current situation as an incentive to seek new niches.  The word around town is that a focus on Technology, Tourism and Manufacturing is needed to meet the new demands of a global market.  The positioning of the El Paso-Juarez borderplex has been a greatly underutilized resource for many years.

2002 is a year that promises consolidation of political power.  With public employee contracts out of the way and primaries deciding the fate of experienced politicians, stability will be the trademark of local government.   Public harmony of elected officials will be needed to respond to the challenges of the future.  The fact that the growth of the city was slower than expected is a strong indication that the economic development policies in place are not working.  Most public offices are held by centrist and left of center politicians.  What the economic effects of that political landscape will be is uncertain.

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