Editor's Note: This is the final article covering the Gila Economic Development Alliance monthly Roundtable meeting on March 15. The first part featured the speaker, Sam Castello of The Wellness Coalition. This article reports on what various entities and organizations are doing in the county.
Grant County Planner Anthony Gutierrez was the first to give a report.
"As far as economic development goes, during our first quarter of planning, economic development almost didn't exist," Gutierrez said. "Our focus was on capital outlay requests and a Colonias Infrastructure Fund application. We still have about $80,000 in funding to develop infrastructure to help with economic development."
Anthony Solis of Workforce Solutions said a change in the unemployment system program has slowed the department down, while it tries to work out the kinks and learn the system. "It is a major change, with all employment handled through a call center in Albuquerque on the employer and employee sides."
Lucy Whitmarsh, Silver City MainStreet Project Board of Directors president, said the group is also going through transition. "As of yesterday, we lost our manager. One project is collaboration with The Wellness Coalition on sidewalk cleanup. It is ongoing, and we have had a tremendous response with buy in by downtown merchants. I have been impressed with the professionalism of the crews. We will have vests to identify them and then T-shirts as the MainStreet Crew."
Another thing that is a big issue with MainStreet is the Silco Theater. "On Monday, we received $50,000 for sound and projection equipment. The actual costs are $64,000, so we have a bit of a shortfall, but there is a lot of enthusiasm for movies downtown. We will be asking for some community financial support. We know people want to view movies. The Silco is only the beginning of a larger theater district downtown."
Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments executive director, said the agency has been concentrating on colonias applications from the region for the past few weeks. "There is a total of $17 million available, so we are hoping for large awards, which will be awarded the latter part of June. We hope to finish some projects with the funding. We have another three years of funding available before the project sunsets."
Gutierrez pointed out that when a project requires engineers or environmental consultants that, too, is economic development.
As a member of the panel who made decisions on awards to community groups, "I applaud the Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. Community Investment Fund for handing out half a million dollars to community groups. That is a huge boost for organizations."
Lucero pointed out that even one job makes a difference. "As for the sequestration, so far there is no impact to Councils of Government, but later there may be 10 percent cuts. Our concern is that capital outlay is going to urban areas. We need to keep it in rural areas. I will talk to our Congressional delegation."
She said a new transportation bill was considering giving funds to regions for projects. "We have to have data to support the projects. Unfortunately, we need accidents, and the local law enforcement needs to send the data to the state to prove we need improvements. We will now look at local government priorities for funding."
Bruce Ashburn, Small Business Development Center director, reported on behalf of Western New Mexico University. "Construction of Mustang Village is going well. President (Joe) Shepard's reorganization is going forward. Our office has moved to the basement of Watts Hall."
Tiffany Knauf, Grant County Community Health Council coordinator, whose husband is also WNMU assistant football coach, said the first spring football game would take place March 30. In April, football players will be participating in clean up days. Those needing help at homes or businesses are asked to email Luke Knauf at firstname.lastname@example.org. "The team likes donations or even food and drinks, as well as tools they may use for the projects."
Mike Trujillo, Gila EDA member and AmBank president, said the bank would have a clean up day on April 13. "We will use the football team out on U.S. 180, 32nd Street and in Bayard."
Lee Gruber of Syzygy Tileworks asked if community members could sign up to help. She has long been a proponent of cleaning up the area to make the community more attractive to visitors.
Sam Castello of The Wellness Coalition said kids love it when the football team comes out. Knauf said youngsters often ask for autographs.
Knauf, during her Health Council report, said the group received grant funding to address youth drug abuse.
"We also took over the community calendar that Anne McCormick used to send out," Knauf said. "If you want something on the calendar, send it to email@example.com. We are holding our quarterly Health Council meeting here (in the Grant County Administration Center Commissioners' meeting room) at 3 p.m. Monday afternoon."
She said the Health Council is also participating in a tree-gleaning project to gather fresh fruit for the community.
"This potentially may be our last year for the Community Enhancement Fund to provide trainings or speakers," Knauf said. "If you want to apply, please contact me."
The Health Council will partner to provide Jump Into Summer and the Red Hot Children's Fiesta. "We also have a lot of grant stuff going on."
Gruber reported for the Silver City Arts and Cultural District. "Our new director, George Julian Dworin, is in Santa Fe, because the state suggested we apply for a grant to facilitate visiting among the Arts and Cultural districts. Of course, Silver City is the lead. "
She also reported a grant to establish a clay arts trail among four communities to promote anything or anyone producing or selling clay products. "We received a Community Investment Fund award for the Clay Festival, which will take place over a week this year in early August, with pre-festival and festival events. We are kicking off a Poker Chip event. It seems the best poker chips are made out of clay. "
"We will have trips to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, with a stop at Little Toad Creek Inn," she said. " We are hoping to have 150 buy into 15 tables of 10."
Gruber said she is seeing what happens when collaboration occurs among groups.
Eileen Sullivan, Silver City Public Library director, said the new children's librarian, Harmony Phillips-Dalston, is from Silver City and returned in October. The library has been pulling in record numbers at story telling on Wednesdays for children from the age of 3 to 5 years. A Lego Club has started for children ages 5-12 years, and they are looking for extra sets to help children build spatial and problem solving skills.
"We are changing the summer reading program and expanding it to the end of July," Sullivan said. "The emphasis will be on the kind of activities we can provide at the library. The theme is 'Dig Into Reading.'"
She said the library hopes to offer workshops in cooperation with the Clay Festival. "We are really getting out and working actively with the community. We talked to The Wellness Coalition for support of some of our programs."
"We are supporting the Southwest Festival of the Written Word, with the Arts and Cultural District and Western Institute of Lifelong Learning," Sullivan said. "We are also helping with the Battle of the Books, which comes to schools. A lot is going on, and we are open to collaborations with other organizations."
Ashburn said the SBDC had completed and funded four Individual Development Accounts. "From Day 1, we were involved with Little Caesar's, when they opened in Deming and here in Silver City. We are also working on a couple of substantial efforts that we can't divulge yet."
Mary Stoecker of the Southwest Energy and Green Jobs Task Force said the group had created a plan. "It has been presented to members of the task force for review. It has pieces of the Grant County Economic Development Master Plan in it."
Mary Alice Murphy reported that the "albatross" of the old Fort Bayard campus is the vacant hospital. The area state senator and representatives put together capital outlay for $4.3 million to demolish to structure. Grant County, who is interested in acquiring Fort Bayard, has also applied for a brownfields grant to make sure there are no "surprises" in store to prevent progress toward economic development of the site.
Skip Thacker, Gila EDA member, reported Bridge Community, which is a group of people working on a continuum of care from assisted living to hospice, would hold a fundraising event at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 17, for a St. Patrick's Day dinner.
Bridge Community received last year a Community Investment Fund grant, which went toward purchase of 10 acres on Lomita. The award received this year will provide for a feasibility study. "We think such a facility is sorely needed because we see our friends having to move elsewhere when they need care. We plan to hold monthly Sunday pasta dinners for $10 each to raise funds toward the large undertaking of the $5 million to $6 million project."
Brett Kasten, Grant County Commission chairman, said commissioners passed a resolution supporting a regional water supply project if the project includes three projects from Grant County—the Grant County Water Commission regional water distribution system to serve residents from Tyrone to Hurley, effluent reuse to recharge the aquifer, and a permanent diversion solution for the Gila Valley.
He explained that NM Sen. John Arthur Smith had proposed a few weeks ago a pipeline from the Gila River to Las Cruces. "He told the four counties involved in the Arizona Water Settlements Act, which potentially will receive up to 14,000 annual acre-feet of water and up to $128 million, to get their act together to use the water and funding. The Grant County Water Commission stood tight. We will not drop our project. I asked Jon (County Manager Saari) and Anthony to draft a resolution to implement our three priorities."
Kasten said Smith addressed some of his concerns in a video interview, which can be viewed at: http://reportfromsantafe.com/episodes/view/163/senator-john-arthur-smith-d-deming-and-senator-stuart-ingle-r-portales/
"Contrary to the lies that are being said, we can never take anything but flood waters," Kasten said. "The AWSA stipulates how much water can be taken, and it will not impact normal flows."
The area-wide project, an amended version of one from Deming already in the evaluation process, can be found at http://nmawsa.org/library/amended-proposals-march-8-2013.
The next Roundtable is slated for 8:30 a.m., Friday, April 19, at the Grant County Administration Center.