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SET members discuss economic development in four counties

At a meeting of Stronger Economies Together, also known as the Southwest New Mexico Economic Development Partnership, members heard a presentation from Glenn Tolhurst and Mike Barragree of Mimbres Film LLC.

The two are asking for letters of endorsement to designate them as film liaison and assistant film liaison for Southwest New Mexico with the New Mexico Film Office.

Tolhurst said the main purpose is to make the Film Office "know that we're here and to bring in economic development because of the geography, topography and historical sites for filming."

Barragree said once they accomplish receiving the designation, they would rely on economic development in the area so everything is here that the film industry needs.

Aaron Sera of the city of Deming said in his experience with filming in Deming, "it was cumbersome to fill the need for a five-acre piece of property, for instance. Will you do that?"

"Yes, we will develop the database," Barragree said. "I was project manager on a film that needed a fire truck to create a rain scene, as well as a snake wrangler, generators and food. We would take the burden off you. We would be the facilitators of permits and such, as well."

"Would you set up a contract for Silver City, for instance?" Sera asked.

"We would coordinate the contract," Barragree said.

"We would donate our time," Tolhurst said. "We would act as liaison between the municipal and county governments and the Film Office. Our Mimbres Film LLC will work as an agent for landowners. We will have photographs on the state database. If the Film Office chooses a location for which we are agents, as liaisons we will do the logistics, food, water and lodging."

A short discussion ensued on the set that was built for the Lone Ranger film and was abandoned.

"A set that was built east of Santa Fe started that way and was built up over time for use in various films," Barragree said.

"After a film is finished shooting, the film company is required to return the site to the same condition or better," Tolhurst said. "We are here just looking for a letter of endorsement to nominate us for the designation of film liaisons. We're volunteering to do it for the area. For Mimbres Film LLC, we contract with landowners to get movie companies to come in and film. We take 10 percent of the contract price."

Barragree said they have letters from Deming, as well as Luna and Hidalgo counties. "We are waiting for a letter from Catron County. We went before the Grant County Commission this morning and we want to do the same with all municipalities."

"We want movie companies to come spend money here and learn how beautiful it is," he continued. "We're asking for two liaison positions and will work as a team. It's a large area. I will be the film liaison and Glenn will be the assistant film liaison."

"Operationally, we are interchangeable," Tolhurst said.

Under old business, Emily Gojkovich of the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments asked about the Rural Business Enterprise Grant progress.

"We haven't met and I haven't received any information," Anthony Gutierrez, Grant County planner, who was supposed to be on the board, said. "I thought it was for a revolving loan fund, so we could get some loans for businesses. I think using the Southwest Housing Authority was a mistake."

Gojkovich said the SET name is on the application. "I plugged RBEG money at the Silver City Arts and Cultural District and piqued some interest."

"I thought it was supposed to be a board deciding who got the loans," Gutierrez said. "But I discovered they had already signed up some businesses and turned some down."

Priscilla Lucero, SWNMCOG director, said: "I think you're right. The one I sent was turned down."

"I thought SET and the partnership were to assist," Gutierrez said, "but we don't know anything about it."

Lucero noted that several entities, including Luna and Grant counties, put money into the match for the funding.

Gojkovich then reported on the Promise Zone application, for which USDA had invited the area to apply. "We applied, with Luna County as the fiscal agent. We were chosen as the runner-up. We met with the USDA undersecretary and he encouraged us to re-apply. We have a conference call with the USDA coming up to learn how to enhance our application. I want to get it ready for next time applications are asked for."

Gutierrez said that the application could have been done over six months, "but it was dumped in Emily's lap with just a few days to the deadline."

"The zone will give us preferential points for the Department of Justice, Department of Education and the USDA," Gojkovich said. "SET would rank the projects, and we would have a local decision."

"We should have an economic development committee as part of SET," she said. "Instead of another committee, we have had conversations with Aaron and have agreed to use SET as the economic development committee. We will piggyback the COG meetings in the morning and the SET meetings in the afternoon to allow for only one trip for those involved in both."

Gutierrez noted that the COG meetings are always at the same time as the Grant County Commission meetings, so he can rarely attend. It was decided to move the COG meetings to 10:30 a.m., with a lunch break and SET at 1 p.m.

Sanjiv Doreswamy with the New Mexico Finance Authority said his agency is also into private lending.

"Our funding that is coming from the U.S. Treasury, we are wanting to get out to rural areas," Doreswamy said. In the Collateral Support Program, the loan to collateral is 80 percent to 85 percent. We are not here to compete with banks. We pay the bank 25 basis points to service the loans. The only businesses not allowed to borrow are the so-called 'sin businesses.'

"For large loans come to see us," he said. "We have tax credits. The credit requirements for a loan are the same as banks, but our Collateral Support Program allows a ratio up to 85 percent. The bank pays for one participation piece of paper. The banks in Silver City do know about us."

Lucero said those interested could contact her to serve as liaison.

Under new business, Gojkovich said there has been a request to revisit the group's goals. One goal was to create a business inventory and another to create 300 to 400 jobs in the four counties.

"I think if we start with five jobs, maybe we would be more successful," Gutierrez said. "We need to concentrate on how to meet our goals. I think the revolving loan fund is a success, if we get back on track with it. We have to bring the goals back and think about how to meet them. For instance, green energy creates construction jobs, but not much after that."

Sera noted that at first, the group received education on economic development. "Now SET is being used as a platform. I'm not sure we set up as a group to set goals and meet them. A developer coming in goes to the city or county, not to this group."

"One of the ways is to get correspondence from agencies and have the mayor or county come to us," Gutierrez suggested.

Linda Smrkovsky of Luna Economic Development said Luna County was an Enterprise Community and the Promise Zone was an offshoot of that program. "The SWNM Economic Development Partnership will become a reality, if we get the Promise Zone designation."

Gerald Schultz, representing statewide resource conservation and development districts, said he remembered that one of the goals of SET was to start a business, such as with archery.

"The Black Range RC&D is not dissolved, but has not met in three years," Schultz said. "You ought to contact them and see what is happening with their funding. Maybe this group could absorb what they have."

To a question about whether a SET economic development committee would be duplicating the Gila Economic Development Alliance, Lucero said the alliance could be a participant in the SET process.

"The focus here is reliant on local governments," Gutierrez opined. "Gila EDA's focus is marketing the area."

Lucero suggested the group revisit the goals and strategize where it wants to go.

Smrkovsky advocated for continuing to include private businesses. Lucero said the businesses have to see value in the process.

Santa Clara Mayor Richard Bauch said businesses go into business to make money. "Maybe this group could help take roadblocks out of the town, county, state and federal regulations. La Tiendita has had several who want to start it up again, but first they have to bring the building up to code, and it's too expensive."

"I ran a welding business and got all the licenses and permits, but I couldn't make money," Bauch said "All the illegal businesses that were in business at the same time, but with no licenses and permits, are still going. That's why there is no economic growth, because of too many regulations. Maybe we need a different approach. Someone could go into business, and as they get some money, they can start to bring a building up to code."

"I kind of agree," Gutierrez said, "but it's a tough task."

Bauch said in the village, the cost of commercial water/sewer taps had been $2,000. "We took all that away. We made the cost of all taps the same. The Construction Industries Division is driving jobs to Texas and Arizona."

Hurley Mayor Edward Encinas said he has noticed that local businesses also don't want big competition.

"Could one of our goals be to work on obstructions?" Bauch asked.

"Larger municipalities have been doing public/private partnerships," Gutierrez said. "The public provides the infrastructure for businesses to come in. The regulation part would be a tough battle."

Schultz noted that in his home state of North Dakota, small rural areas have community-owned grocery stores.

Lucero suggested setting short-term and long-term goals.

Gojkovich said maybe part of a goal should be to look at input and set goals, according to the local communities. It was moved and approved to table the goals for this meeting.

Sera asked that the mission statement and goals be brought to the next meeting.

On the topic of branding, Jessica Etcheverry, Luna County Special Projects director, said that a brand could not be all things to all people. That issue was also tabled.

Gojkovich pointed out several items in the recently passed Farm Bill that could benefit SET, including borderless solutions between southwest New Mexico and southeast Arizona, which have similar issues.

"I have partnered with my southeast Arizona counterpart to work together on regional tourism aspects," she said. "A southeast Arizona county wants to do a bicycle tour, so I asked him if he had talked to our Tour of the Gila. We are not talking about sharing dollars, but to encourage their visitors to visit us, too. Right now, their climate is better than ours, but in the summer ours is way better."

Schultz said the Black Range RC&D used to meet with RC&Ds in Arizona.

Gojkovich gave a report on the Southwest New Mexico Energy and Green Jobs Task Force and said she had copies of the group's plan.

Lucero said every local entity had approved it, except for Catron County.

Another report centered on the regional broadband efforts. Lucero said a volunteer is doing an assessment of area residencies and their broadband speeds. She is now starting with businesses. A contractor sent out a request for information to determine what areas are unserved and underserved.

Smrkovsky said she would be retiring March 31. "I am really excited about what a Promise Zone can bring to this organization, the partnership. I will give back to Luna County and will stay on several boards. I will likely show up at these meetings when I can. I want to market the region. Thank you for working on a regional basis."

Chris Stevens, new Deming MainStreet Project executive director, said Deming is working on branding itself. "Curb appeal draws people into a store. MainStreet is a self-help group. We are putting up way-finding signs and plaques on historic buildings. We have a tiny park between two buildings. PNM has given money to spruce up the park with murals, a fountain and lights. We want to encourage foot traffic."

Etcheverry said the port expansion in Palomas is a No. 1 priority. "We are almost done with land acquisition."

Marti Trammell of Bridge Community said the group has received a draft feasibility study. "We are opening a small office at 213 highway 180 W and will hold a ribbon cutting March 18. Every third Sunday, we have a soup or pasta dinner as a fundraiser. On March 16, we will have a St. Paddy's day corned beef dinner and our annual meeting."

The next SET meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday, April 24, at a venue to be determined.

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