MON: Intel Promises 700 Jobs With $3.5B Investment In Rio Rancho Expansion, + More

May 3, 2021


Intel Says $3.5B Investment Is Critical To Microchip Future - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Intel will be investing $3.5 billion in its New Mexico plant to manufacture what executives said Monday will fuel "a new era of innovation" and advanced computing as demands increase for the tiny microchips used in nearly all modern devices.

Intel executives were joined by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other politicians at the plant in Rio Rancho, northwest of Albuquerque, as they shared details of Intel's global strategy as it looks to reclaim the top spot in the semiconductor sector.

Multibillion-dollar expansions also are underway at the company's sites in Arizona, Oregon, Ireland and Israel.

Almost every aspect of life today depends on technology, and the demand for more manufacturing and advanced packaging systems for microchips is more critical than ever as more people are working from home and as many parts of education and communication have gone virtual, said Keyvan Esfarjani, the company's senior vice president for manufacturing and operations.

"The world is continuing to count more and more on advanced semiconductor technologies," he said, "and Intel is absolutely the enabler."

The Santa Clara, California, company recently reported first-quarter earnings of $3.36 billion, topping expectations. Since the beginning of the year, Intel shares have increased by about 26% following a downturn last year as it reported a delay in development of its next-generation manufacturing process for building faster and more powerful chips.

Most of the world's chip manufacturing happens in Asia. Intel is the only company currently producing in the U.S.

President Joe Biden's infrastructure package proposed spending $50 billion to boost the semiconductor industry in the U.S., but New Mexico's elected leaders said nearly $20 million in homegrown tax incentives and economic development funding were key to landing Intel's latest investment.

The incentives include a recently approved program for using a percentage of gross-receipts tax and compensating revenue from the construction phase of projects to help businesses with land, building and infrastructure costs. The governor touted the bipartisan measure as a tool that will make New Mexico more competitive.

"This notion that we don't ever do it right and that the other states around us are doing it better are not true," Lujan Grisham said. "Here's an example where we're absolutely competitive at the right time and in the right ways without having to move too far in terms of an incentive."

Intel's plan in New Mexico marks one of the largest single investments by a private company in the state. The governor said the incentives amount to a fraction of what Intel will be investing overall and of indirect jobs and revenue that will come from the project. Intel already employs about 1,800 workers at the site and has an annual economic impact of about $1.2 billion.

The Rio Rancho plant will be modernized to focus on what the company bills as an advanced packaging system for stacking its chips that will allow for better performance and more capabilities for artificial intelligence, graphics or whatever applications customers are working on, Esfarjani said.

The project will result in 700 plant jobs, 1,000 construction jobs and an estimated 3,500 related jobs in the surrounding community. Local officials said the investment will serve as a shot in the arm as they look to rebound from the economic sting of the pandemic.

Intel first came to New Mexico in 1980. The plant has seen several revisions over the years as the company has invested more than $16 billion in its manufacturing capabilities.

"This is going to become a very integral parts of our production. It's going to become an enabler for advanced packaging," Esfarjani said. "So in my estimation we're all in, there's no looking back. We're absolutely committed to making this a huge success and will be counting on this operation for decades to come."

Bobby Unser, 87, Indy 500 Champ In Great Racing Family, Dies - By Jenna Fryer, AP Auto Racing Writer

There wasn't much Bobby Unser wouldn't do to promote the Indianapolis 500, which is how he found himself at a show-and-tell at an Indiana elementary school a few years ago.

He had the famed Indy 500 winners' Borg-Warner Trophy with him and proudly showed the students the Unser legacy. He pointed to the nine places where their faces are sculpted into the sterling silver — four spots for his little brother, Al; three for himself; two for nephew Al Jr.

One girl had a question: If his brother was there four times and he was there only three, was his brother the better racer?

It was one of few times anyone had seen Unser speechless.

Unser, who began racing jalopies in New Mexico and went on to become a beloved figure across racing and part of the only pair of brothers to win "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," died Sunday at 87. He died at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, of natural causes, Indianapolis Motor Speedway said.

"There simply was no one quite like Bobby Unser," said Roger Penske, now the speedway owner. "Beyond his many wins and accomplishments, Bobby was a true racer that raised the performance of everyone around him. He was also one of the most colorful characters in motorsports."

Unser was a member of one America's most famed racing families and  one of the greatest drivers in the history  of the speedway, capturing the race in 1968, 1975 and 1981.

"He is part of the Mount Rushmore of Indy," said Dario Franchitti, another three-time Indy 500 winner.

Unser's final Indy 500 victory in a Penske entry was one of the most contentious outcomes and is still disputed to this day.

Unser won from the pole and beat Mario Andretti by 5.18 seconds, but officials ruled Unser passed cars illegally while exiting the pit lane under caution — drawing a penalty that docked him one position and moved Andretti to winner.

Penske and Unser appealed and after a lengthy process the penalty was rescinded in October of that year.

"Bobby was never exonerated of the infraction and USAC, which was the sanctioning body of only Indianapolis at the time, was a very weak organization," Andretti said Monday. "Roger Penske's lawyers were a lot smarter than the USAC lawyers. And this is a fact: Bobby did commit the infraction. But under the circumstances, the penalty was too severe."

Unser in the end was fined $40,000 and declared the winner for the 35th and final victory of his career.

Andretti, who infamously won only once at Indy, told The Associated Press on Monday that to this day he wears the 1981 winner's ring he was presented at the banquet the day after the race instead of the one from his 1969 victory.

"Every time I saw Bobby I would flash my '81 ring, it's the one I wear, I never gave it back. I would just rub it on his ear," said Andretti, who added he last spoke to Unser about three weeks ago.

Unser was one of six members of the Unser family to race in the Indianapolis 500; an older brother, Jerry, died in a crash preparing for the 1959 Indy 500.

Al Unser is one of only three drivers to win the Indy 500 four times — 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987. The Unser family tradition stretched to Al Unser's son, Al Unser Jr., who won Indy in 1992 and 1994.

Bobby Unser was born Feb. 20, 1934, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and moved with his family as a child to New Mexico. His father owned a garage along Route 66 and he his three brothers grew up tooling around in old jalopies before he quit high school at 15 and began his racing career at Roswell New Mexico Speedway.

After two years in the U.S. Air Force from 1953 to 1955 — a stint in which he took pride — Unser turned to racing full time in what became a mighty career. His family was legendary at Pikes Peak International in Colorado — nicknamed "Unsers' Peak" because of their prowess at the annual hill climb — but it was "Uncle Bobby" who was the best. He dominated with 13 championships, including six straight from 1958 to 1963.

At Indy, one of the most difficult and challenging race tracks in the world, Unser was magical.

He was one of just 10 drivers to win the 500 at least three times, and Unser and Rick Mears are the only drivers to win the 500 in three different decades. Unser produced 10 top-10 finishes in 19 career starts. He led led in 10 races for a total of 440 laps, which to this day ranks 10th on the all-time list. He won two poles, in 1972 and 1981, and had nine front-row starts.

Franchitti spent time each year at the speedway or at dinner with other past winners and said Unser was "always the largest personality in pretty much any room."

"He showed up at the speedway and regardless of when he last raced, he still understood the race and what it took to win the race and he was still so very insightful," Franchitti said. "He loved the Indy 500 so much. He loved coming back."

The exclusive club of former winners gathers in Indy annually — the pandemic put a pause on the tradition last year — to reminisce about their speedway days. Unser always held court among the giants of motorsport, none ever taking for granted the deadly dangers of Indianapolis.

"He was a fun guy and he liked to talk and to make light of a lot things and always made great conversation, especially at dinner in Indy where everybody convenes. We'd get together for a steak downtown," Andretti said. "The fact that we survived at all. We lost so many. We dodged a bullet."

After his driving career, Unser moved to a 20-year broadcasting career and won an Emmy Award as part of the ABC Sports broadcast team for "Outstanding Live Sports Special" for its coverage of the 1989 Indianapolis 500.

He was in the booth in 1987 when he called brother Al's record-tying fourth 500 victory, and again in 1992 when nephew Al Unser Jr. won Indy for the first time in the closest 500 finish. When his TV career ended, Unser continued to visit the speedway every May. He was a driver coach who assisted on race strategy in 1998 and 1999 when son Robby Unser finished fifth and eighth.

Unser is survived by his wife, Lisa; sons Bobby Jr. and Robby; and daughters Cindy and Jeri.

Judge: New Mexico Must Give At-Home Students Fast Internet - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

A New Mexico judge has ordered education officials to provide computers and high-speed internet to students who still don't have them in a landmark ruling that for the first time in the state has set a standard for internet speeds for public school children.

The ruling requires state officials to immediately determine which students covered by the sweeping lawsuit are still lacking quality internet, or devices, and to provide them with what they need, including transportation if they can't get fast internet from home.

"Children who are lacking access to internet and technology for remote learning are not getting much of an education, if at all, let alone one that is sufficient to make them college and career ready," said state District Judge Matthew Wilson in the ruling Friday morning. It's unclear how the court might compel state officials to act on the ruling or when it might hold them in contempt. 

The vast majority of New Mexico schools have opened to in-person learning this month after closures due to the pandemic. But school districts serving tribal areas, which were particularly hard-hit by COVID-19 cases and deaths, are still under lockdown orders and some are still in remote or partially remote learning.

About 10% of New Mexico children are Native American and often confront major barriers to online and in-person learning. When the pandemic first hit, 55% of Native American students could not connect to online courses, according to a Legislative Finance Committee report. Many teachers serving at-risk students also lacked at-home internet and computers.

Hispanic and Native American mothers sued over the lack of access, and their lawsuits were combined as the Martinez-Yazzie case in 2014, and won a favorable ruling in 2018. Their lawyers complained to the court about internet access in December after it learned that many plaintiffs were still offline a semester into mandated remote learning. 

"This is a great day for New Mexico's children," said Melissa Candelaria, a senior attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represents the Martinez-Yazzie plaintiffs. "Many students are not back at school and internet services are unavailable, especially in rural districts and districts serving predominantly Native American students. Even when students come back into the physical classroom, technology will continue to be a necessity."

The ruling requires education officials to determine the internet speeds of the students covered by the lawsuit, including low-income students, disabled students, and English language learners. 

Altogether, that's more than three-quarters of K-12 students in the state.

That monitoring is technically complex, and no state agencies have published comprehensive data on the quality of students' at-home internet connections.

The Public Education Department declined to address the decision Friday, saying it needed to review the written ruling, which won't be published until Monday. 

"However, it is worth noting that PED and school districts have worked hard over the past year to expand high-speed internet access and put digital devices in the hands of students most in need so they could fully access their guaranteed public education. That work continues," said department spokeswoman Judy Robinson.

On the Navajo Nation alone, over 6,000 laptops were distributed and 1,250 were added and 380 miles of fiber optic cable were laid.

Some homes are simply too far for wireless towers that send internet to WiFi hot spots, and state officials have estimated a full extension of the state's broadband system would cost around $5 billion; larger than its entire annual education budget.

Schools have had to make due. One school serving Native American students without internet even hand-delivered homework and lessons on USB sticks. Over the past year, many families have had to drive students to parking lots at libraries, churches, and fast-food restaurants to upload and download homework assignments.

The order establishes for the first time in the state a required level of internet access for students. Wilson said it must be "high-speed service sufficient to reliably download and upload assignments, stream instructional videos and participate in individual and/or group video conferencing."

Many of rural hot spots will fall short of that requirement because they are not strong enough to enable video chatting.


New Mexico Expected To Have Fewer Births, Fewer Students - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

New Mexico researchers warned on Thursday that there may be fewer people in the state in the coming decade, with a drop in births that will continue to reduce school enrollment.

The implications of an aging and shrinking population are vast. 

Businesses may struggle to find workers in some sectors. State agencies may have to emphasize the need for eldercare services and programs for seniors such as Medicare that will only grow more important. 

The change is already affecting school enrollment.

Even in metropolitan areas like Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces, where population growth has continued, school districts have seen modest declines in school enrollment in recent years.

In rural areas like San Juan County, enrollment has plummeted. 

The population shrank by around 3%, from around 130,000 in 2010 to 126,000 in 2020, according to the legislative study published Thursday.

The Aztec Municipal School District, one of a few serving the county, went from around 3,150 students enrolled to around 2,200 in the same time period, officials said. 

Exactly what does a 30% drop in enrollment mean for a school district?

With fewer students, schools receive less federal and state funding. That meant not replacing some retiring teachers. Losses in staff and students reduce the proportionate saving in costs, which results in fewer classes and programs.

"I think we do a good job with what we have, but it's a pretty basic education," says Judy Englehart, Associate Superintendent. "There used to be more supply money. There used to be more electives available especially at the high school level. 

We used to be able to provide Title I math and reading services to our students. Now our Title I funding is so limited that we're only able to provide reading services," said Englehart, a 33-year veteran of the district.

The number of young people living in New Mexico is already declining. Rural communities have been particularly hard hit.

"Every year the enrollment in the public schools has dropped since 2010. And that's a reflection of two things. It's a reflection of families moving, right? People are pulling kids out of school and going somewhere else," said demographer Jacqueline Miller.

Miller's work for the Geospatial and Population Studies unit at the University of New Mexico was at the core of a report released Thursday by the Legislative Finance Committee. School enrollment statewide decreased 3.9%. Legislative researchers attributed about half of that to the pandemic. But 43% of students who left the school system also left the state, and are not expected to return.

Secondly, declining enrollment is "also a reflection of fewer children being born. So you have kids who leave the school system in each grade, but your kindergarten class is also shrinking each year," Miller said.

To address this, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's cabinet wants to bring families to the state.

The Public Education Department says it is focused on teacher development, supporting the needs of students in and outside of school, and expanding learning options to prepare them for college and trades.

"These pillars will be essential regardless of the student population. Investing in these areas will help improve schools for our current students and make New Mexico an increasingly attractive option for families," said education secretary Ryan Stewart in a statement Thursday following the release of the report.

Many states and countries are wrestling with dropping fertility rates, Millers, the demographer, says. But in the Western U.S., only Wyoming had a slower growth rate in the last decade than New Mexico.

More New Mexicans are leaving the state than are coming in, and new residents tend to be retirees.

"We seem to have more in-migration of people who are older," Miller continued.

Her advice to policymakers?

"They should plan on having fewer children in the state. The exception to that is if somehow they managed to recruit a large number of young people to the state. I'm not confident that's going to happen," she said.

In December, the Early Childhood and Education Department secretary joked to legislators that she and her staff are hoping for a baby boom while recognizing declines in births in recent years.

It's now becoming clearer that the financial and emotional burden of the pandemic didn't have that effect.

"Despite the concerning demographic changes recorded by the census, the fact remains that child care and PreK capacity still lags behind need in New Mexico," said early childhood secretary Elizabeth Groginsky.

Lujan Grisham elevated child care to a cabinet position, increased subsidies to low income-parents, among other investments. That along with added support from increased federal funding "hold the potential to improve early childhood outcomes across the state," Groginsky says, with the goal "to build a true cradle-to-career education system."

New Mexico Shifts Metrics, Some Virus Restrictions RelaxedAssociated Press

Friday marked the start of New Mexico's updated color-coded framework for determining COVID-19 risks in each of the state's 33 counties, with state officials saying the changes are aimed at providing a more accurate picture of risk given increasing vaccination rates.

By shifting the metrics, more counties are now at a level at which there are fewer restrictions on commercial and day-to-day activities. In all, 24 counties are at the least-restrictive turquoise level, followed by six at green and three at yellow.

"As our models show, test positivity is likely to become more elastic over time, and as fewer New Mexicans will require COVID-19 testing amid increasing vaccinations, we want to provide counties the assurance that they can continue to progress in accordance with the actual risk they face," Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said in a statement.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and top health officials said earlier this week that the state is on track to have at least 60% of residents fully vaccinated by the end of June. That will allow capacity limits at restaurants and other businesses to be lifted and the state to fully reopen.

The health metrics used to determine a county's risk level now include a new less restrictive per-capita rate of new COVID-19 cases of no greater than 10 per 100,000 residents and a higher average positivity rate of less than or equal to 7.5% over a 14-day reporting period.

The latest state data shows more than 42% of residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated.

New Mexico on Friday reported 309 new COVID-19 cases, with Bernalillo and San Juan counties leading the daily tally. There are 145 people hospitalized. Despite the increase, Scrase suggested during a briefing earlier this week that the state had reached a plateau and that vaccinations were helping to keep the number from going higher as more people go out and interact.

Brush Fire Chars Estimated 120 Acres Northwest Of Shiprock

Crews continued to battle a brush fire that has charred an estimated 120 acres 5 miles northwest of Shiprock and led to some evacuations, authorities said Sunday.

The fire broke out Saturday afternoon in Shiprock and its cause is unknown.

At least one structure has been burned and multiple outbuildings are threatened or burning. 

Authorities said the fire is burning brush, grass and salt cedar.

Among the agencies fighting the fire are Navajo police, San Juan County Fire Rescue, Navajo Nation Fire Rescue and Farmington Fire Rescue.

Wrong-Way Driver Is Killed In Freeway Crash In Albuquerque - Associated Press

Authorities say a driver who was going the wrong way on Interstate 40 is dead after crashing into the back of a semi-truck. 

Albuquerque police say the crash occurred early Sunday and closed part of the freeway for hours. 

They say the wrong way driver was pronounced dead at the scene. The name, age and hometown of the driver haven't been released yet. 

It was the second fatal crash on an interstate in the Albuquerque area involving a wrong-way driver in about 24 hours. 

Bernalillo County Sheriff's officials say an off-duty officer with the Cuba Police Department allegedly caused a head-on crash around 2 a.m. Saturday that left two people dead and another person hospitalized.

Off-Duty Officer Arrested In Fatal Wrong-Way Crash On I-25 - Associated Press

Authorities say a 29-year-old off-duty police officer was arrested in an Albuquerque-area wrong-way crash in which two people were killed early Saturday morning. 

A criminal complaint charged Cuba police officer Brandon Barber with homicide by vehicle, aggravated DWI and an open container violation after the crash on Interstate 25 in Albuquerque's northern outskirts. 

The Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office said two passengers in a SUV were killed. The SUV's driver and the driver of a pickup truck were injured. 

Cuba Police Chief Manuel Romero extended condolences to the families involved and said one of his officers was on administrative leave pending an internal investigation after making "a poor personal decision."

Felix Muñez, Barber's stepfather, told the Journal that the family did not want to comment.

"Our prayers and thoughts go out to the ones that lost their lives," he said.

Online court records didn't indicate whether Barber has an attorney who could comment on his behalf.

Mountain West Eliminates Intraconference Transfer Rules - Associated Press

The Mountain West has eliminated its intraconference transfer rules, becoming the latest Division I league to decide it would solely be governed by NCAA rules. 

The conference's Board of Directors approved a recommendation by the league's administrators and athlete advisory committee. 

The NCAA DI Board of Directors ratified new transfer rules earlier this week that will allow all athletes to transfer one time during their careers without sitting out a season of competition.

The Mountain West had required athletes who transfer within the conference to sit out an additional season on top of the year required by NCAA rules.

The Atlantic Coast Conference, American Athletic Conference and Mid-American Conference have previously announced they were also eliminating intraconference transfer rules.

Navajo Nation Reports 6 New COVID-19 Cases, 3 More Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation has reported six new confirmed COVID-19 cases and three additional deaths. 

Tribal health officials say that as of Saturday, the total number of cases since the pandemic began more than a year ago now is 30,508 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah with 1,281 known deaths.  

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said more than half of the reservation's adult population has been vaccinated. But people still need to stay home as much as possible, wear masks and avoid large gatherings. 

Last week, the Navajo Department of Health loosened some virus-driven restrictions and transition to "yellow status."

Man Arrested In 1980 Slaying Of 79-Year-Old California Woman - Associated Press

Police have arrested a 64-year-old man in connection with a 1980 cold case where a woman was found dead in her Southern California apartment. 

Andre William Lepere was arrested Wednesday in New Mexico on suspicion of the murder of 79-year-old Viola Hagenkord in Anaheim. 

Authorities determined Hagenkord had been sexually assaulted and she died of asphyxiation. Lepere is being held without bail in New Mexico's Otero County pending extradition proceedings. 

It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. 

The Los Angeles Times reported that homicide detectives reopened Hagenkord's death in September and DNA evidence pointed to Lepere as a suspect.

Lepere had lived near Hagenkord and worked as a truck driver and plumber, the newspaper reported. Police said it's unclear if Lepere had a direct relationship with Hagenkord, noting that detectives haven't determined a motive.