Editor's Note: This is the final part of a two-part series on an economic development forum hosted by the Gila Economic Development Alliance at the Grant County Business and Conference Center.
The Gila EDA held a forum Tuesday morning to present projects. The three panelists were Grant County Commission Chairman Brett Kasten, Western New Mexico University President Joseph Shepard, and Silver City Town Manager Alex Brown.
As the question-and-answer section of the meeting continued after several projects for enhancement of economic development and quality of life were presented, Earl Montoya, Silver City resident, said he was "going to rain on your parade. Joe Mondragon and I met often with Dr. Shepard up until last September. Since then he's been too busy."
"The key is a common goal," Montoya said. "Many don't know what the common goal is. The concern on the university side is the issue of whether we are after a good university or a quality university.
"I agree this bond issue will lead to a good university, but many in the community want a quality university," he continued. "The dialogue has not happened with this."
Shepard said the goal is a good university first before a quality university can be attained. "We have had activities all over the area and at the university to include the community. This process of the bond issue is just starting. I encourage you to get actively involved. Yes, we need to do a better job of communication. I encourage you, Earl, to continue to challenge me to do better."
The next questioner, Lori Ford, Community Access Television of Silver City executive director, said: "We all need stimulation here. This is a good start. My concern is the conference part. Do we have any plans for customer-service training?"
Kasten said there would be such a plan, but "right now, this facility is leased out every weekend. Somebody, after the facility is complete inside, will likely be hired who is qualified to run a conference center."
William Dobrickey, interim Small Business Development Center director, asked what percentage of the bonds would be spent in Grant County.
"We will have to follow state code," Kasten said. "There is no way we can guarantee local contractors on county projects."
Shepard said Western is "committed to buy local. The quality of labor is the issue. We had a project that went stale because the contractor was hunting, which I know is important here."
Silver City Mayor Pro Tem Cynthia Bettison said she is excited about the projects. "We have had to limit the number for conferences, because there are not enough hotel rooms. The expansion will bring in dollars."
Steve May, Silver City resident, said the biggest complaint he hears in the area is the lack of skilled labor. "Why don't we have a vocational school?"
Shepard said Western offers vocational training. "The difficulty is getting people to show up to work. We need to start in elementary school instilling a work ethic. A bunch of us is trying to get a program for dual enrollment, so when a student graduates from high school, he or she will have a welder's certificate or an electrician's license, for example."
To the audience in general, Shepard said: "You're interested. If you want to be part of the solution, be part of the Gila EDA."
Lee Gruber, co-owner with her husband David Del Junco of Syzygy Tileworks, suggested the group look at "what we have. We have three historic theaters. Figure out how to use them. I do not agree with a multiplex. I think sustainability comes from small businesses. I will work hard to convince you to look at what we have and take care of it."
Sandra Lucas, Silver City resident, said: "When I hear multiplex, I think of $25 a ticket. I support what Lee says. Can we support a five-plex theater?"
Lynda Aiman-Smith, Silver City resident, said she thinks about the historical gems in the area. "We held a quite successful contra-dance in the old Post Office. The Murray Hotel has a nice dance floor. People don't expect everything in the same place when they go to conferences. I applaud your working together, but use the jewels we already have in town."
Brown explained the proposed $10 million in bonds would be paid back through the gross receipts taxes. About 60 percent will be from goods and services sold to locals, with the rest from people coming from outside, "providing real economic development to local businesses."
Bettison said it will not just be county citizens carrying the financial burden, but much of the repayment will come from ones from outside the area. "The costs of new facilities will be shared with everyone using them."
Jeremy Lewis, area resident, said youths are the lifeblood of the community. "We have to maintain what we have, but don't forget the youths coming up. Look to the future. Come together and not divide. If you were an 18-year-old, how would you feel coming to a town without a movie theater?"
Alex Ocheltree, county resident, said the costs of running the Gila Theater would be the same as for a multiplex. "No operator is going to take over three separate theaters. All of us would love to see movie theaters downtown, but we need a world-class theater. I would like a world-class theater."
Nick Seibel said he spent eight years managing the Gila and Silco theaters. "We should not be constrained. This is an opportunity to take history and use it. I'm excited to see the county, city and university working together. Downtown is very viable."
Congressman Steve Pearce was special speaker for the forum. "I thank Joe, Brett and Alex. It takes the courage of a lion to step across the line." He recognized former state Rep. Murray Ryan in the audience.
"In a desert, the desert looks to the dew to create growth," Pearce said. "What you're doing is very important. My message is if you think Washington is going to come help you, it's not. Santa Fe is closer and may give you bits, but you have to come to resolution locally."
He said he always remembers what one older man told him when he asked him whom he missed the most of his friends and family who had died. "He said: 'I miss the person I could have been.'"
"Young people find opportunities where they are," Pearce said. "I asked our daughter to visit when I was at the state Legislature. My wife left out business statements to try to get her to return home. When I got home, our daughter said to me: 'Before you ask, the answer is no.' She said: 'Hobbs feels like it's dying, and the youths here feel the same way.'
"If we do not have unity, the community will die," Pearce continued. "I commend the community, county and university for working together. My first message is to work together when you come to Washington. If you give opposing points of view you will get 'no's. Become the dew to cause the barren area to bloom again."
In Hobbs, he said, the opinions are as varied as in Grant County. "We got together and had all kinds of ideas. At the end of the day, what was agreed upon and within our reach was trash pickup. Hobbs felt like an industrial town. It used legislative money to burn down old derelict buildings, and we hauled 57 tons of garbage into the dump. Then we did something with Main Street, and now it is green with walking paths."
"Communities waiting on Santa Fe will have desperate times," Pearce said. "You have to look within and you have to be unified. Set aside all differences. For Congress, I say run as parties, but work as Americans. That's why I often don't vote with my party leaders. When you unify yourselves on your projects, they are the ones for you. You need to be the dew in the desert."
Skip Thacker, Gila EDA board member, asked folks who wanted to get updates on the progress of the projects to "like" the Gila EDA on Facebook.