The Gila Economic Development Alliance continued its monthly Roundtable with reports and updates from those in attendance.
Christine Logan, with the New Mexico Economic Development Department, represents the whole southwest area of the state. "There has been a pick up in activity for people looking to relocate," she reported. 
Jeremiah Garcia, Gila EDA chairman, asked if Grant County were receiving potential recruitment opportunities, which he explained come from the state through the New Mexico Partnership.
Emily Gojkovich of the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments said the COG has answered some. "Some require a foreign-trade zone, and there are only three designated in the state. We are working with Hidalgo and Luna counties to be a pilot project to be a foreign-trade zone."
She asked that Realtors or small businesses trying to sell small buildings or land, should send the information to her, so they can be posted on the NMEDD website.
"I want to commend Emily," Priscilla Lucero, SWNMCOG director, said. "We were a finalist in the Promise Zone designation, coming in second to the winner. Only one rural designation was made, and it was in Kentucky. We will reapply and will ask for letters of support."
Anthony Gutierrez, Grant County planner, said the preliminary engineering report has been completed for an industrial park at the airport, and "we have a near full set of plans. We're trying to do some land swaps, and then we can look for infrastructure money. We are trying to market some businesses, as the comprehensive plan recommends."
He said several different entities have asked for the economic development plan, so they can use it as a model. "We can make copies available. We are trying to make the plan useful, so it doesn't just sit on a shelf."
Gutierrez reported the Arizona Water Settlements Act can be controversial. "Five witnesses from our region did battle at a hearing of Senate Bill 89 with probably 150 on the other side, but they only had five witnesses, too. The legislators listened to us."
He said he had a request to identify revenues that would come to the area as a result of keeping in the area the water as allocated by the AWSA. "An investment banker from Albuquerque said that over 25 years, the water could bring to the area $138 million in revenue. I share that with you, so you can be supportive of our using the water."
"I've lived along the Gila River my whole life," Gutierrez said. "I don't want to alter living there, but I do want to see our kids have jobs. There's a lot of negative information out there."
Gojkovich said Santa Clara and Hurley had just finished their Frontier plans. Santa Clara has a way-finding map and historic walking tour. Hurley plans to do street-scaping to pull people off Diaz Avenue.
Scott Terry, Silver City-Grant county Chamber of Commerce president, said the chamber sent out about 70 tourist and relocation packets within the past month, with one to Northern Ireland. 
"It was disturbing to me that at the Silver City Daily Press Candidate Forum, two of the candidates were supportive of raising the minimum wage in Silver City," Terry said. "Santa Fe has lost 300 businesses because of the raise in the minimum wage. One was Costco."
"Can I give a great employee a raise, instead of having a government mandate?" Alex Ocheltree, owner of Billy's BBQ, asked. "To a high school student, who is just learning, I may not give a raise. Let me give the raise, instead of the Town Council."
Representing the Fort Bayard Restoration and Development Coalition, Mary Alice Murphy said Fort Bayard is for sale. The state received five expressions of interest, with three being from the area—the village of Santa Clara, Dr. James Skee and the Veterans' Transition Center in Deming. The state was supposed to have sent out a request for proposal a couple of weeks ago, but no one has seen it yet.
Skip Thacker, speaking for Bridge Community, said the group would be holding a fundraiser early dinner on Sunday, March 16, at the First United Methodist Church.
Don Trammell of Bridge Community said the group has opened an office at 213 W. Highway 180. "We received the draft feasibility plan, and expect the final by Feb. 27."
Bruce Ashburn of PNM said the utility company, because it is regulated, had a bill on the floor of the Legislature asking for approval to give discounts. "We're in the process of shutting down two burners at the San Juan plant. The bill failed, but we thank the Chamber of Commerce and Jeremiah for their support."
"Incentives to grow and retain, as well as bring in businesses, is tough sometimes," Garcia said.
"Twenty-nine other states have options for discounts," Ashburn said. "It puts us at a disadvantage, especially since Arizona and Texas have the options, which give them the advantage."
Julie Morales, representing Western New Mexico University, said Western did well, with more than $1 million in funding, pending gubernatorial approval, and $6 million in general obligation bonds that must be approved by voters. "Our employees will receive a 1.5 percent increase in compensation. $100,000 was allocated for Smart classrooms, which was advocated for by students. The renovation of Light Hall is starting soon, developing the capability to show films. We are revamping the website with student involvement. The Student Affairs team is also working on recruitment packages. Since Dr. Shepard did not make it in time today, I will ask him to give a budget report next time."
She said Tax Help NM is happening to help people complete their tax returns. On April 5, the fundraiser for scholarships, Black Tie Gala, will take place. "In April, we will be undergoing accreditation. We are asking for community comments to address the quality of academic programs."
April Ortiz of Wells Fargo Bank said mortgage rates are creeping up, but are still attractive.
Sean Ormand of 1st New Mexico Bank said the number of independent community banks has shrunk, but "ours are doing well. There is a tremendous amount of regulations landing on community banks. If you want to protest the regulations, a comment from an individual carries more weight. We didn't get the highs that some banks got, but we also didn't hit bottom like some did."
Representing the New Mexico Partnership, of which he is a member, Ormand said the partnership goes throughout the country to try to bring new businesses to New Mexico. "When we lose the tools to bring in businesses, we are at a disadvantage. In August is supposed to be the first flight at the Spaceport for take off and landing. It has a lot of competition, not only in the U.S., but abroad."
Ashburn said about not having the option to offer discounts to businesses, "if someone is opposed, it's easy to open their mouth. We need to hear your support."
Insurance First owner Chelsea Hotchkiss said her business is growing every day, with about 60 new clients a month. "LJ Lundy (a Realtor) and I are working together on the catastrophe programs, which are backed by private insurers. A law was passed that as long as we meet the criteria, except for mortgages with Bank of America, we can offer the catastrophic coverage. We're still trying to determine whether Bank of America or FHA will accept the insurance."
Lundy gave an example. "If a house is in a floodplain, even if the map doesn't make sense, with flood insurance, the owner pays $83 a month for flood insurance. If the home transfers and changes hands, the cost goes up to $238 a month. All of Bullard and Hudson are in the floodplain. With the private insurers, it costs $77 a month for the catastrophic coverage."
Ortiz noted that an individual could dispute the floodplain designation, with a lot of money and paperwork.
Gutierrez said he is the floodplain coordinator for Grant County. "In 2010, there was new mapping. Grant County protested the maps where a lot of homes are in the floodplain. We can do a letter of map amendment. It's a lot cheaper to do an elevation survey. We can help and it may prevent high premiums. I have the data that created the maps. Sometimes, a surveyor can prove flawed data."
Kim Clark, representing the Silver City Regional Association of Realtors, said 2012 was not a good year for home sales, which were down 11 percent. "The sales pace is up 3 percent, so it's pretty flat. We're hoping the deep freeze in the Northeast will bring us some homebuyers. We send out postcards showing a nice sunset. I attended the January real estate meeting in Santa Fe. The New Mexico population is diminishing and jobs are diminishing. Brian Sanderoff predicts real estate is not going anywhere soon in New Mexico."
Terry said at the previous evening's Town Council meeting, a comment was made about an upcoming Preparedness Forum and that stricter building codes for fire protection might be coming soon, which would raise construction costs.
Tom Vaughan of FeVa Fotos said he has been attending the Roundtable meetings, but has heard no focus on tourism. "Supposedly, we support tourism, but it seems kind of second string. We don't promote as well as we should the arts and culture. There's music somewhere almost every night. We have restaurants that have received state and national recognition. My plea is to give more focus on the arts and galleries. Part of community is 'unity,' and only one chamber is mentioned on the tourism site."
"We send out packets, and my chamber spends a lot of money," Terry said. "We send cases of information to New Mexico Visitor Centers, but we receive no funding for it."
"We have to work together to get the tavern license," Lundy said.
Lucy Whitmarsh, Silver City MainStreet board of directors' president, said the Silco Theater renovation is underway, with a target date for opening, July 2014. "There is a lot of material inside not contributing to historical integrity that is being removed. We're accessing capital outlay from last year for the work. MainStreet is an economic development vehicle for downtown. We are looking at the Silco to bring back some of the vitality of downtown."
She said the organization has seen concerns about safety and security downtown. "A Downtown Safety and Security Task Force is working closely with the police department to address the issues."
She said the board passed a resolution to renew the public safety tax.
The next Roundtable is slated for 8:30 a.m. Friday, March 21, venue TBA. 

Live from Silver City

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The Grant County Beat continues to bring you new columnists. New this past week are the Christian Corner, for those who are already Christians or are exploring the beliefs.

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