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Gila EDA Roundtable 011714 hears from meeting participants

Editor's Note: This is the third and final of three articles on the Gila Economic Development Alliance Roundtable held Jan. 17 and will cover the short presentations by participants.

Tiffany Knauf, Grant County Community Health Council coordinator, talked about an initiative, which is being developed by the Partnership for Success II grant to address and prevent drug and alcohol abuse by youths. The Health Council oversees the group. The initiative is an addition to the 101 Things to Do in Silver City program, created by the Silver City Arts and Cultural District and Tourism.

"We are working on 101 Things for Kids to Do in Grant County," Knauf said. "The program will launch at the end of the school year, with competitions for youths. They will be able to go into businesses and do an activity the business has designed and then the business will sign that the youth has completed it. We hope that each youth in the county will find at least one thing that he or she wants to delve into.

"The Health Council also sends out a twice-weekly calendar of events," she continued. "Let us know if you want to be on the list. It is also posted on our brand-new website. The gal who created it also does The Grant County Beat's website, so it looks good."

She then told the assembled group that she would be leaving Grant County and burst into tears, which she later told the Beat was most unlike her. Her husband has taken a job as offensive line coach at the University of North Dakota.

The next one to speak was Melanie Goodman of U.S. Sen. Tom Udall's office.

"Senator Udall is on the Senate Appropriations Committee," Goodman said. "He is pleased to announce that Congress passed an omnibus bill, which provides funding for agencies. He's also focused on getting back to regular budgets, with certainty for military institutions, veterans and national labs. Nobody in this bill gets everything it wants, but there are state and local law enforcement grants. A provision he fought for was funding to relieve the backlog of veterans' claims and to restore wildland forest fire mitigation."

She said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has programs for rural development for rural and frontier communities. Also funded are water and wastewater projects under Colonias. The bill restores some of the cuts to veteran retirees, and bumps up Title I and special education funding to schools.

"The omnibus bill does not include PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes)," Goodman said. "The good news is that the senator got support to restore some of that funding. He hopes to get it into the Farm Bill."

Over the past few years, Goodman has been part of the four counties of southwest New Mexico's efforts to create a regional plan for renewable energy and energy efficiency. "We have completed the plan, have sought resolutions from local governments to support the plan, and right now we're in the implementation phase."

Christine Logan, area representative of the New Mexico Economic Development Department, said the department would be pushing in the legislative session for more funding for the job-training program, JTIP.

"I'm working throughout six counties, helping with regulation issues and helping communities to identify what you already have," Logan said. "I am also available to help individuals on businesses."

Arlene Schadel, Gila EDA member, announced that "Nunsense" would be playing at Western. She handed out fliers. "Arlene is playing the reverend mother," she said.

Julie Morales, representing Western New Mexico University, said the university was projecting a 5 percent increase in enrollment, but it didn't happen.

"If we don't make changes now, by the end of the fiscal year, we will be $1.3 million short," Morales reported. "Dr. (Joseph) Shepard (WNMU president) held an employee assembly, and he has been meeting with groups on campus. We have to change. Enrollment at local schools is also dropping and that impacts us. Next Friday, the cabinet will meet to discuss cost-cutting measures. Dr. Shepard has said everything is on the table, such as furloughs or cutting of hours. Then the university has to plan for next year. A page has been created on the website with all of the information of this ongoing process. If you have ideas, you can communicate them through the website at wnmu.edu." Abe Villarreal, public relations, said a large button on the front page takes one to the recording of the assembly.

"I agree with Mr. Montoya," Morales said. "We have to be more efficient. The board of regents meeting will be Jan. 30 in Santa Fe, as they always meet there during the legislative session."

Morales then talked about Prospectors. "Our day in Santa Fe is January 29, with our reception that evening at the Inn at Loretto. We are trying to get sessions with House Appropriations, the Legislative Finance Committee and the governor."  She held up the brochure of priorities that the group would lobby for to improve Grant County.

Earl Montoya, self-named community watchdog, said right after the assembly at Western, he began getting phone calls from faculty members.

He reported that one told him that Shepard had said if the faculty members didn't "go in with him, the state might take over the university."

Morales and Kathie Gilbert, WNMU employees, protested that they heard nothing of the kind and it wasn't true.

Cissy McAndrew, Southwest New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce executive director, commented on bringing the university back and supporting the schools. The university and the hospital have had financial problems, she said, but Gila Regional Medical Center is becoming more efficient.

"Tourism is up," she reported. "We are getting new businesses downtown and getting the vacant places filled. One of our challenges is Netflix. People may not come downtown for movies at the Silco, if they can nest at home and watch one."

Pam Eley of the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments said COG director Priscilla Lucero was working on becoming a certified economic development planner and had been attending training sessions all over the country.

Lordsburg and Santa Clara have been declared frontier communities, Eley announced. "We have been working on the Promise Zone, for which we were invited to apply, but it seems they are going more to urban areas."

Goodman said they had seemed to her more diverse. Eley said they had completed and submitted the application, but it seems that only two have been named in New Mexico.

"Priscilla is also working with the leadership program at Western," Eley said. "And Vistas de Plata has two homes occupied and two more coming soon."

The website for  COG economic development information in the area is swnmcog.org.

Rachel Martinez of Relay for Life announced the kickoff for the event as happening Saturday. "It began in Grant County in 2001, but we only have records from 2005. We have raised $464,000 since then."

Mary Alice Murphy said the Fort Bayard group was awaiting news from the state on progress on sale of the facility, but hoped to keep local control.

"And I have an advertisement," she said. "You can sign up for almost daily updates by email of most recently posted articles on the Grant County Beat."

Gordon West, owner of four businesses, said Forest Industries has grants and two groups need letters of support for their proposals—West's company Restoration Technology and Gila Tree Thinners.

The next Gila EDA Roundtable is slated for 8: 30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 21.

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