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Southwest New Mexico Economic Development Partnership meets, discusses its future

The Southwest New Mexico Economic Development Partnership, also known by the training the members have been receiving, as Stronger Economies Together, met Wednesday in Silver City.

Emily Gojkovich, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments economic development planner, gave an overview of the previous meeting.

"The Southwest New Mexico Housing and Development Authority, which applied on the behalf of our group, was awarded a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant to set up a revolving loan fund for the four-county area," Gojkovich reported. "Veronika Molina (of the SWNMHDA) is in the process of setting up a board to oversee and award loans. She is looking for bankers or people with extensive financial experience from the four counties that will be served."


The grant amount awarded was $61,000, which included funding not expended to other groups. In addition, matches in the amount of $35,000 from Luna County, Deming, Grant County and Silver City, add up to $96,000 to begin the fund.

Gojkovich said Molina talked about applying for a USDA Intermediary Relending Program, which could provide as much as $750,000 for the fund.

"We recommended that everything get ironed out with the RBEG funding and making sure those taking out loans pay them back before applying for the additional funding, which is a loan and must be paid back," Gojkovich said.

Arlene Schadel, Grant County economic development coordinator, said she received at least 15 letters of interest from local businesses wanting to apply for the loans. The letters were included in the application.

"This is a positive for the area," Linda Smrkovsky, Luna County economic development planner, said.

Gojkovich also said a USDA Rural Energy for America Program loan had been received by Silver City's Custom Steelworks, which is using it to put in solar panels to cut the company's energy costs.

The Certified Community Initiative applications are moving forward, Gojkovich said.

"We need a couple of more things to complete Hidalgo County's portion of the application, and Catron County is almost done," she said. "Grant County will also be a part of the same application."

Luna County, along with Deming, is doing a separate regional CCI application, according to Smrkovsky. She said Columbus could be added in at a later time.

"The (New Mexico Economic Development Department) changed the process, so that no longer can an individual CCI join a regional one," Smrkovsky explained. "That was one reason we chose not to join this one, but be regional in our county."

Priscilla Lucero, COG director, said the reason the COG had taken on the responsibility, was because the Grant County Economic Development Coalition for Progress could not apply as its joint-powers agreement is outdated. "So we are going to get all the entities to approve a resolution to have them join the one being applied for on their behalf by the COG."

"We are not pulling out of regional activities," Smrkovsky stressed. "We are still working with this group and the Southwest Green Energy and Jobs Task Force."

Gojkovich explained that because Hidalgo and Catron counties do not have economic development entities, they would not be eligible to apply for CCI status without having the COG do it on their behalf.

Lucero said the COG will be the fiscal agent, but Schadel would continue to do everything she does now, including answering potential recruitment opportunities. "Our intent is to do the application, including using anything in any plans, such as the Grant County economic development master plan, and be the fiscal agent."

Anthony Gutierrez, Grant County planner, said there is still confusion in the county.

Schadel said her concern was that the COG would be the one contact person.

Lucero said she had discussed that very question with the NMEDD and was assured that because this regional application is the first of its type, the implementation of it will be flexible, and that Schadel will be the contact for Grant County will be stipulated in the final contract.

Smrkovsky said she is doing well with her application for Luna County and Deming. "The changes to templates make it more detailed. I think they are trying to make us more accountable."

Linda McArthur of the Small Business Development Center said she did CCIs in the past. "It was hard to get together, but then you have all the info."

She announced an SBDC workshos coming up. On Sept. 26, "Working with the IRS," will be hosted by the SBDC and The Wellness Coalition Non-Profit Resource Center. The workshop is designed to help non-profit organizations stay exempt.

Gerald Schultz, representing New Mexico Resource Conservation and Development activities, pointed out that good water quality, as they have in North Dakota, which has 2.3 percent unemployment, is conducive to economic development.

Lucero said improvement of water quality has been the goal of entities in the region, and great improvements have been made.

McArthur announced that Western New Mexico University is holding a Town Social on July 27 in Deming, and July 28 at Gough Park in Silver City.

Ed Kerr, Hidalgo County commissioner, said one was held in Lordsburg and: "It was well done."

McArthur said there would be food and music, as well as games for children.  'We're also going to hold one in Hurley."

Lucero said she has been working on Senate Memorial 65, passed through the efforts of Sen. Howie Morales, which sets up the process to establish a vocational-technical school in Grant County. "(WNMU President Joseph) Shepard wants to apply for funding for construction," Lucero said. "I intend to meet with the regional director to discuss the goal, but there's a lot of work to be done."

Louis Baum, Bayard city councilor, said he watched the National Governors' Conference and saw that the Secretary of Education was putting in $2 billion for training and construction of vo-tech facilities.

Gutierrez asked if it wouldn't be more appropriate to get a planning grant first, because usually a design is needed to apply for construction funding.  He pointed out the economic development master plan targets workforce development.

Angelou Economics, which wrote the master plan, will come in soon to do a site visit and feasibility study on where to place a vo-tech school.

Lucero said because she needs to know more about the required square-footage and infrastructure needed, Tony Macias, dean of applied technology, is creating a white paper of the curriculum.

She said, at the last COG board meeting, the board requested getting someone else to take the lead on the SET program.

Schadel said she believes the program should continue with the rest of the training. "And I think we need committees and to get back with Michael Patrick (New Mexico State University professor) to finish his contract to facilitate the training."

Smrkovsky said the group has done too much work to let it go. "I want to keep it moving. I will take it on for the immediate future and will contact Michael."

"We will continue to participate and help," Lucero said.

Gutierrez said scheduling has been a problem. "I would like to make sure we don't get a failing grade. I think we need to get Michael Patrick back in."

Smrkovsky said she would like to get more private businesses on board.  "We are working on a strategic plan for the Southwest Green Energy and Jobs Task Force. We will be able to use a lot of that plan."

Gutierrez said things on the agenda should be items that people want to attend to find out about. He suggested sending a link to a program that will get people's schedules and when they can attend the meetings.

Schultz asked if the program had been funded with a grant.

Smrkovsky explained that the funding was for technical assistance from the USDA and Michael Patrick, with no direct funding coming to the organization.

McArthur said perhaps in the future the SBDC might be able to help. "Might it be helpful to re-energize us to list the good things that have come out of it, such as the memorandum of understanding among all the entities in the four-county region?"

Smrkovsky announced the second annual economic development luncheon in Deming on Aug. 14, with Sen. Jeff Bingaman as the featured speaker, as perhaps his last event in the area before his retirement.

She said he did not want testimonials, but New Mexico Sen. John Arthur Smith and Rep. Dona Irwin would thank him for all he has done for the area.

McArthur also said Steve Chavez, who is getting his Ph.D. in economic development at NMSU, is serving as an intern at the SBDC and working on the vo-tech issue.

Schultz announced three Fort Bayard related activities, with the Historic Preservation Society holding its regular meeting this evening at the Holiday Inn Express; the Fort Bayard Restoration and Development Coalition holding its monthly meeting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, July 19, at Watts Hall; and a regular tour on Saturday, where former NM Rep. Murray Ryan will be feted for his 90th birthday and he and artist Greg Whipple will be honored for the Buffalo Soldier statue, which Ryan got funding for and Whipple created.

No meeting date was set for August.

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