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 V.15 No.14 | April 6 - 12, 2006 

News Feature

The Good, the Cheap and the Toxic

Best of Burque snaps a Polaroid of the likes and wants of Duke City citizenry. But before you dive into your fellow Burqueños' tips on deals and desires, take a look at where Albuquerque places on some national lists.

Big Fit City

Albuquerque's in good shape when it comes to physical fitness, according to Men's Health Magazine. For the second straight year, we've made their list of fit U.S. cities, though we dropped three places in 2006 and came in at No. 13 of 25. According to the magazine's report card, our citizens don't watch much TV, and we aren't particularly sedentary.

Bob Lentini, the general manager of Gold's gym Downtown, says the weather has a lot to do with our level of fitness. "It seems people are more fit in climates where they're out more, where they don't wear as much clothes, because they have to look better," he says. In other words, spaghetti straps look and feel good in the heat, but the blazing desert sun doesn't do much to hid those grandma flaps. In fact, we get an A- from the magazine for participation in sports and for exercise, probably due to our good geography and hefty amount of open space.

Among the marks against us: "Albuquerque is in the bottom 10 percent for the number of bars per capita, but alcohol consumption is much higher than average for cities in our survey." Wow. So Duke City bars are packed with the athletic and the lush.

A Breath of (Kinda) Fresh Air

Men's Health painted a smoggy picture of Albuquerque air quality in its fit cities report, but Fabian Macias, environmental health manager for the operations section of Albuquerque's Air Quality Division, might beg to differ. According to Macias, we're one of the only major cities in our region that actually meets federal ambient air quality standards. Big-time neighbors Denver, Phoenix and El Paso fall short, since their ground-level ozone numbers are out of compliance. “That threshold is a health-based standard," he says. "Our air is cleaner than those cities around us."

But ground-level ozone is something Albuquerque struggles with, too. It's a soup of volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides and moisture stewed by sunlight and low winds. Its sources are vehicles, industry pollutants, hot-water heaters, gas stoves and furnaces, among other things. Albuquerque keeps ground-level ozone under the federal bar, but just barely, Macias says.

"Our head room on some of these pollutants is slim," he says. "The ground-level ozone is at about 91 percent of the national standard. For particulate matter, we're at about 90 [percent]." Particulate matter basically amounts to ... well ... particles suspended in the air, such as dust. And it's dusty here in Albuquerque. But the Air Quality Division is working to keep contractors in line when construction disturbs the top soil. Permits require contractors to minimize how much dust they kick up. You can monitor the situation for yourself on the city's website at www.cabq.gov/airquality by clicking on regions of the city to view the levels of pollutants. But the division can only do so much, Macias says. Ultimately, it's all up to citizens to make decisions that help clear the air. Stick that in your tailpipe and smoke it.

Happy Trails

In March, Bicycling Magazine named the Duke City the third-best bicycling city in the country with a population between 200,000 and 500,000. That's a recognition that might be unexpected—if you're not one of the hundreds of die-hard cyclists in town. These folks already know, and know well, that Albuquerque sports great in- and out-of-town riding.

The Bike Coop's Stephen Williamson can tell you all about it. Williamson rides 250-350 miles by bike every week, most of it within city limits. His favorite ride is about 75 miles long, goes mostly along the outskirts of the city and takes him about four hours to complete. "It's great," he says, "because you're never that far from home if you get tired or if your bike breaks down." Williamson estimates that there are between 200 and 300 licensed bike racers in Albuquerque. On any given weekend, he says, there's five or six group rides taking place with 15 to 30 riders in each. Big rides attract hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of Albuquerqueans.

Williamson says he sees more people commuting to work in the UNM area all the time. And with buses that can handle bicycles, one can comfortably commute almost anywhere. Bike routes are very well-maintained, he adds, and the weather is great. "Except for maybe a dozen days a year, you can ride in New Mexico." Well, Williamson can, anyway.

Cheap Labor and Fast Growth

Of all the national recognition Albuquerque receives, we probably get the most for being a great place to do business. The city's website lists more laurels than you can shake a fountain pen at. Here's a couple: Forbes named it the fifth-best overall and lowest-cost city for doing business in May 2005; it's sixth on Expansion Management's August 2005 list of 20 cheap places to have a corporate office; and Burque's in the third-best state for cost of labor and the fifth-best state for manufacturing growth, according to the July 2005 issue of Business Facilities.

That's a mouthful. But what it comes down to, says Fred Mondragon, director of Albuquerque's Economic Development Department, is that the quality of life here attracts businesses from out of state. The air is good, he says, the amenities are attractive and the commute's a dream for West Coast folks used to traveling hours to get to work.

And, things are comparatively cheap here.

"We have a modest cost of doing business," Mondragon says. "The cost of office space, supplies, and, yes, I'll say it, even labor, is pretty low."

It also helps that business owners have easy access to officials and politicians, with their names, e-mails and phone numbers on the city's website, he says. Incentives sweeten the deal, with the state paying back 50 percent of a new employee's salary for six months if a company is expanding. That cost New Mexico around $3 million last year, Mondragon estimates.

And what about those inexpensive workers? Of course, with the new minimum-wage increase proposal announced by City Council President Martin Heinrich this past weekend, wages hopefully won't stay so low forever. Yet the quality of Burque's labor isn't merely about cheap workers, according to Mondragon. One of the things he sees on a lot of national lists is mention of our productive work force. "Our people in Albuquerque work harder than they do [on average] around the country," he says. "People appreciate jobs. It's a hard-working, very ambitious work force that really wants to get ahead and provide good services for the wages they receive."

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