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Stronger Economies Together hears short report on broadband

By Mary Alice Murphy

At the Southwest New Mexico Economic Development Partnership meeting, more commonly known as its predecessor Stronger Economies Together or SET, Lynda Aiman-Smith, volunteer with a New Mexico Department of Information Technology Broadband Program, gave an update to the members.

"My background is as a serial entrepreneur, then working for a corporation and finally as a professor of entrepreneurship," Lynda Aiman-Smith said. "New Mexico ranks at the bottom of the broadband divide. This program was initiated by the NMDoIT to identify needs, capabilities, what we have and what we need to increase to process to meet the need and technical skills."

She said she was looking at small businesses and the large number of non-profits, which have been ignored in assessments, as has government.

"It's me doing one-on-one interviews and small focus groups," Aiman-Smith said. "The major reason I'm doing this is that I'm a huge fan of the COG and I like to do research in my area of interest, which is non-profits and how much they provide to economic development in this area.

"People working at non-profits get real money that they can spend," she continued. "Big pipes of revenue come into them and non-profits can use broadband. They can use it for communication, VOIP, email, as well as communication to donors via newsletters and social media."

She asked those present to do computer Internet speed tests. "That gives us real data," Aiman-Smith said. "It flows to the research director at the University of New Mexico. The reason it's so important for economic development is that it is projected that 31 percent of businesses will be home-based. People move here because they want to live here. With broadband and a supportive community, other skilled people will thrive. Robust broadband is becoming a necessity. Knowledge gives options.

Gerald Schultz, representing state Research and Conservation districts asked: "Sole proprietorships increase as broadband increases. Do you foresee it increasing to small businesses?" Aiman-Smith answered affirmatively.

Veronika Molina of the Housing Authority Office in Deming said three people in her office were gone after funding was cut, "but we're going to be re-funded."

She oversees the Rural Business Enterprise Grant, which has created a revolving loan fund. Molina said two had signed applications, one from Silver City and one from Deming. "We are lacking the profit and loss statement on one and the pro formas on the other. We have $22,000 left. Both of the awardees will go down a bit. For the third application, we haven't looked at the credit report, but we will submit it to our board for review. Silver City Structure does metal roofing and is seeking $25,000. El Rey Meat Market has asked for $50,000, and Campos Construction for $25,000. Two or three others did not turn in complete applications."

"I'm on the board to review the applications, and I haven't been contacted," Grant County Planner Anthony Gutierrez said.

"Soon," Molina replied.

"If you have potential applications, you should inform the board so they know about it," Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments executive director, said.

"Once the money is getting paid back, we can reloan it or use it as a match, can't we?" Gutierrez asked and was told the board could do so.

Emily Gojkovich, SWNMCOG economic development planner asked once the money was being paid back that Molina let the SET group have the financials.

"We would set up an escrow account, so that one of us could make the report," Molina said.

"You need to let those who donated to the fund know, 'here's how much we spent and how many jobs we saved or created,'" Lucero said.

Christine Logan, NMED area representative, said a lot of organizations could help move people into the program, so the money comes back faster.

"If we decide to apply for more, we should do a rack card explaining how the RLF works," Gojkovich said.

Lucero reported that for the Promise Zone application, the area came in second within a couple of points of being a finalist. The winner was a small town in Kentucky. U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich is giving his full support for the region in the second round of applications.

Molina reported that the housing authority received a $25,000 grant from the Freeport McMoRan Community Investment Fund. "It is for weatherization of 10 homes in Grant County and probably up to 20 or 25 if homeowners will leverage it with their own money."

Gutierrez asked about a planning grant. Gojkovich said the Certified Community Initiative could be spent on planning.

"As of July, we have set money aside to see if businesses are sustainable and growing," Lucero said. "We want to work on business retention and expansion."

The group reviewed the vision and mission statements and made a few minor changes. In a review of the goals, the first one was cut, as it had been completed. The group kept No. 2 and made changes to No. 3. No. 4 will be to create a website.

"I ask for a working group on the Community Economic Development plans," Lucero said. "I prefer it come from the region that will help implement it." The working group was scheduled for 10 a.m. May 22, with the SET meeting at 1 p.m.

Gojkovich talked about borderless solutions. "Several of us are going to Greenlee County for a summit. The people there are very supportive of our side of the border as well as theirs."

Josh Kalish of Bridge Community reported the group received its feasibility study about six weeks ago. "It more than confirmed the area is seriously in need of a facility of 77 beds for a continuum of care. The study suggested a 45,000 square-foot building at a cost of $12 million to $15 million, which would provide 50 permanent jobs. It confirms we're working in the right direction."

Marti Trammell of Bridge Community announced the third Sunday in May would be a shrimp primavera early supper as a fundraiser for the organization.

A SET meeting was also scheduled for 1 p.m. June 26, at a venue to be determined.

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