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Roundtable features Freeport's Richard Peterson

The Gila Economic Development Alliance held its monthly Roundtable Friday, with Richard Peterson, Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. regional manager community development, as the featured speaker.

"Yesterday Freeport McMoRan announced its second quarter earnings," Peterson said. "We had net income of $710 million compared to $1.4 billion a year ago, mainly because of a labor strike at our Grasberg Mine in Indonesia.

"It is the 16th successive quarter, we beat analyst expectations, even though copper was down about a buck a pound to $3.52," Peterson said.

He also cited results for gold and molybdenum production, which he said are primarily byproducts of copper production.

Peterson said the company is ramping up production at Chino Mines. "We started up the first half of the concentrator mill last year, and soon the second half. We should be in full production by the end of 2013."

Tyrone is also seeing a ramping up of production.

"At the end of 2009, we had 660 employees, now we have 1,420," Peterson said. "We are pursuing permits for Cobre Mine. It will take four or five years to reopen, but we will not see a real increase in jobs. A haulage road is being built. We also have 200-300 contractor employees. Right now, we are pretty much full employment."

He cited the continuing need for skilled concentrator mechanics, instrument and industrial technicians, and industrial electricians. "We always have more unskilled applications than jobs.  The skilled already have jobs, and the unskilled are looking for work."

Peterson said the environmental assessment is ongoing.

Cissy McAndrew, Southwest Green Chamber of Commerce director, asked where and what type the haulage road would be.

Peterson said it would be an overpass over highway 152 near the mine overlook.

He also talked about ongoing community investment, including the community investment fund, which in February, after a competitive process of receiving proposals for funding, allocated $500,000 to organizations in the county. A committee of 11, nine community members and two Freeport employees, determined through a scoring process and discussion, which groups should be funded.

"Also by company branch, we give out $250,000 in grants of $10,000 or less," Peterson said. "In addition, through the Grant County Community Health Council, we fund the Community Enhancement Fund to bring trainers and training into Grant County, so one person from an organization does not have to travel to receive training. The whole group can benefit from the same training. Since the filming of 'North Country,' we have made a quarterly award."

Tiffany Knauf, health council coordinator, said the council's Steering Committee and Community Enhancement Fund Committee, review proposals and award the funding.

"I might point out, we had a contract to film the 'Lone Ranger' here, but the studio backed out and filmed it elsewhere," Peterson said. "The studio was going to use our rail spur."

Earl Montoya, Silver City resident, said he has recently become involved with non-profit organizations.

"I don't think you do enough public relations," Montoya told Peterson. "The community is not aware enough of what good things Freeport is doing."

Peterson pointed the attendees to freeportinmycommunity.com, where groups may apply for the Community Investment Fund.

"I'm trying to cut a check to the Red Paint Powwow, but can't get anyone to return my calls," Peterson said. "I need their proof of 501c3 status."

Gila EDA member Skip Thacker asked Peterson about the unskilled workers.

"We have full-time trainers," Peterson said. "You can get a full-time job as a trainer."

Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments director, said a group is working on facilitating Senate Memorial 65, passed through Sen. Howie Morales' efforts at the last legislative session. The memorial is to facilitate the design and construction of a vocational-technical school in Grant County, for which Lucero is seeking funding. "Can we have a partnership to make sure needs are being met?"

Peterson reported that Rick Mohr, manager of New Mexico Operations, is meeting regularly with Western New Mexico University President Joseph Shepard, discussing the issue.

Participants then gave reports on their organizations.

Lee Gruber, founder and organizer of the Silver City Clay Festival, said the event would take place Aug. 3-5. "I view the Clay Festival as a cultural effort to develop the economy in Silver City," Gruber, who owns Syzygy Tileworks, with her husband David Del Junco, said. "It will put us on the map, the clay in the Mimbres culture, archaeology, pueblos, artists, adobe. I believe totally in this event. The collaborative effort is enormous."

She rattled off names of organizations that are helping with the event, through sponsorships and volunteer hours.

"The goal is to bring people here to enjoy the area," Gruber said. "I've heard that people are booking in for a week. And I already know what I'm going to do next year."

For more information on the event, visit clayfestival.com

The next report was given by Arlene Schadel, Grant County economic development coordinator.

"The Gila EDA is working on strategic planning on implementation of the Grant County Economic Development Master Plan," Schadel said. "I have given Dr. Shepard information on emergency medical services, natural resources, and fire science training, including wildland and structural fires for the university to implement for the vo-tech training."

She said she is working on a certified community initiative application for Grant County, which will be applied for by the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments, as a regional certification on behalf of Grant, Hidalgo and Catron counties.

Schadel has also been working on the Today in America segment, which will be aired four times nationally, and 20 times regionally to promote the area.

"Lots is happening in New Mexico for film," Schadel said. "'The Odd Way Home' will be filmed in Silver City, Las Cruces, Deming and Hillsboro. It's time for us to step up and get a piece of the film action."

She will attend an aerospace unmanned vehicle trade show, because Grant County is in a free-fly space, and "it is a growing industry."

Grant County Planner Anthony Gutierrez added that the county is doing the second phase of the master plan, with the consulting firm, Angelou Economics, returning to do site choice and feasibility for an industrial park.

Fort Bayard Restoration and Development Coalition member Mary Alice Murphy reported that the group had gotten more than 3,000 signatures on a petition supporting the restoration and development of Fort Bayard.

McAndrew said the Green Chamber is on target to surpass 15,000 visitors over the past year. She promoted a Sustainable Business Conference in Albuquerque next week.

'We will do a session on recycling for businesses, with a free energy audit," McAndrew said. 'We are working with MainStreet and the Office of Sustainability to do this."

She announced the Farm2Chef program at the Farmers' Market, Sept. 15. Local foods will begin to be labeled, and "we are working with grocery stores and restaurants to feature local food." The Green Chamber is also creating travel packages that feature a hotel, restaurants, golf and other activities in the region, as well as local coupon books.

Dec. 8 will be the Tamal Fiesta, featuring Hispanic culture and heritage.

She said the Gila Rangers refurbished the Billy the Kid Cabin, which is now open seven days a week for visitors.

More reports will be covered in a subsequent article.

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