AED chief displays 25 years of operating the ABQ »Albuquerque Journal into enterprise

Gary Tonjes, President of Albuquerque Economic Development for 25 years, will retire later this month. Photographed on Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – When Gary Tonjes graduated from Eastern New Mexico University in the late 1970s, he returned to his hometown of Albuquerque in search of work.

However, he didn’t find much in the private sector.

More than a decade later, and after stints in Texas and Missouri, Tonjes took the opportunity to return to New Mexico as President of Albuquerque Economic Development to ensure that the next generation of graduates had a wider range of graduate vacancies to choose from.

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“I’ve always believed in Albuquerque,” said Tonjes, who took up the position in November 1994. “You didn’t have to sell me.”

Tonjes will complete his 25-year term at the helm of the AED on Friday.

During an Albuquerque economic forum earlier this month, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said the Tonjes-led economic development organization had brought more than 100,000 jobs to central New Mexico.

“We are very grateful to you,” said Keller Tonjes during the event.

Albuquerque business leaders also lined up to praise Tonjes’ humility, work ethic, and other positive qualities.

“Gary was really about changing people’s lives,” said Steve Maestas, CEO of Maestas Development Group.

New Mexico grew rapidly in the years leading up to the Great Recession. For Tonjes, one of the highlights of that time was luring Eclipse Aviation from Arizona to Albuquerque in 2000. In its heyday, the aircraft manufacturer employed more than 2,000 people, according to Tonjes.

“They had the community in so many positive ways,” he said.

More recently, AED has helped attract several well-known names to the area. Netflix bought Albuquerque Studios in 2019 and Facebook opened a $ 1 billion data center in Los Lunas last year. Further construction work is in preparation.

Tonjes particularly praised Facebook, saying he and his team were fortunate enough to be part of a high profile project that required a lot of legwork.

Of course, there were also setbacks along the way. The 2008 recession bankrupt Eclipse and a number of other companies, robbing the city of its positive dynamism.

“We not only lost Eclipse, but also lost tens of thousands of jobs in that time,” said Tonjes.

Tonjes was also frustrated that the city missed Tesla’s manufacturing facilities twice: once in 2007 and again in 2014. He said the electric car company could have created a multiplier effect that brought other tech companies to the city like this was the case in Reno.

Along the way, Tonjes said Albuquerque has learned from its mistakes and has become a more attractive location for businesses to move to.

Despite his upcoming retirement and an upcoming road trip through the west, Tonjes’ enthusiasm for current and upcoming projects in Albuquerque was unmistakable. He praised projects ranging from the development of Mesa Del Sol to the planned New Mexico United stadium and promises to make Albuquerque a vibrant city to live and work in.

“New Mexico is far more competitive today than it was before,” Tonjes told the Journal. “To be honest, more competitive than since I joined the organization.”

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