At the Gila Economic Development Alliance meeting Friday, Dec. 7, more than 30 people attended to hear the latest news on the group's efforts and changes.

"At this Roundtable, we are a group representing non-profits, governing bodies and businesses," Gila EDA President Jeremiah Garcia said. "It is important to have this diversity, because we have to work together. All of us are concerned about Grant County and where we want to be in two, five or 10 years."

The featured speakers were members of the Gila EDA. Garcia started it off and said the group had thought about a lot of different activities. "We're changing, but we're not going anywhere. We, as the Gila EDA, have challenged ourselves."

The first thing the members asked themselves was what the Gila EDA is, and Garcia answered it.

"We are a non-profit for the purpose of economic development," Garcia said "We rebuilt ourselves five or six years ago, out of the old SIGRED."

Other members asked questions and gave their answers.

Mike Trujillo asked and answered the next question. "What is Gila EDA trying to accomplish?" He said the group is becoming proactive on any issues involving economic development. It is working on long-range economic strategies that include projects that generate jobs, retain existing jobs and stimulate growth in Grant County. "This will facilitate diversification in the county's and municipalities' tax base and the creation of job opportunities. You, as a business person, are leaders and we need you to be successful. "

Joe Ramirez asked: "Why do you want me to do this?" He said it was in order to have successful long-range economic development, which will take a team effort and partnership with the county, cities, Western New Mexico University and others, with businesses in the lead.

Skip Thacker posed the question: "What will this mean to me? The more robust business climate we can establish by stimulating and creating viable avenues of growth for new and especially for existing business, that translates to your business handling more customers for your increased business growth."

Arlene Schadel asked: "How do I get involved? All I need for now is a commitment to be involved.  We will establish an executive committee to meet on a monthly basis, with the board later on meeting on a quarterly basis to review the successes and goals of the EDA. We want to create committees to address specific economic development issues."

Paul Leetmae asked: "How much is it going to cost?" He said the Gila EDA is planning a new structure. "We want to be inclusive, with a base of the business community, so we have commitment or 'skin in the game.'" He said the group also wants to attract new businesses in town.

Garcia said marketing is a key factor.

Brett Kasten was the last to ask a question: "Who are the current board members?" He named them, including Kathie Gilbert, Sean Ormand, David Gershenson, L. J. Lundy, Tony Trujillo, Leetmae, Schadel, Ramirez, Mike Trujillo, Thacker, Garcia and himself.

"We want you to think about what we're saying," Garcia said. "We're all concerned about where we're going to be in the future."

Thacker echoed the sentiment and said by putting plans in place and implementing them, including growing the university, "we're here to make sure Grant County is not going to die. We need to be sustainable, not just have the mines, which go up and down. We need to keep individual businesses on a sustainable basis.  We're concerned if we lose students, this guy (pointing to Kasten) has a transportation company, and government bodies have a tax base. We want to maintain the quality of life, and we want to grow the community."

He said the board members are barely starting on bringing strategies together. The board is asking for business partners to have 'skin in the game,' as well as volunteers to help.

Ormand, who arrived at the meeting late, said the real objective of Gila EDA is to grow. "We have to gather up the impediments and obstacles and confront them."

He, at a meeting of the New Mexico Partnership, of which he is a member, said Sen. Howie Morales asked what the partnership was doing for local businesses. "We have a vested interest in the community. Are there things we can do with government regulations? What is standing in the way of growing your business? Bring them to the table. As a banker, if you have a new customer, I have a new customer. We would like to see those who stay in hotels and buy dinners to move here, so we have a bigger footprint. The Gila EDA is focused on the ones who have put capital on the table. We want our children to have opportunities here."

Lee Gruber, Roundtable participant, said she believes "we have to step outside the box, away from the individual parts. We have quality of life, arts and culture, native cultures, eco-tourism, and a wealth of stuff. Look at it, embrace it and sell it collectively."

Ormand pointed out that Gruber, as co-owner with her husband David DelJunco of Syzygy Tileworks, is a base job. "She ships most of her product outside of the area, but it is created here."

Leetmae said he is remodeling his kitchen and after taking a tour of the production at Syzygy, he is buying his tile and everything else locally.

Ormand also explained PROs or potential recruitment opportunities. Nine years ago, the New Mexico Legislature created the New Mexico Partnership to recruit businesses to New Mexico. "When a prospective business shows interest in the state, we ask every area to respond. The company may want to know the geography, the population, the workforce population, roads and airports. I've been six years with the partnership. In March, it will have its meeting here.

"We, here, need a clearinghouse mentality," Ormand continued. "As you come up with ideas of what's going on with your organization, we need to find resources as we go around the table."

He said the Gila EDA has a relationship with the county, municipalities and the state. Although the local entities want the Gila EDA to respond to PROs, "right now we don't have an agreement."

"New Mexico views Gila EDA as a partner in economic development with the New Mexico Economic Development Department and the New Mexico Partnership," Ormand said. "But we need to make our own future here."

Mike Trujillo said Congressman Steve Pearce had brought to the alliance's attention the lack of cleanliness in the area. "A lot of clean up is needed. The eye appeal we present to prospective businesses is something we can start with. Are there ordinances about mobile homes, parked vehicles and trash? There are too many distressed properties on the way into the area. We need to make ourselves presentable. Maybe we can get the chamber involved. These are little things that will add up. We need to show pride in our community."

Cissy McAndrew, Southwest Green Chamber of Commerce executive director, said people should be challenged to find a niche to fill. "Grant County has more non-profits than anywhere else in the state. Freeport (McMoran Copper & Gold Inc.) with its Community Investment Fund is trying to get us ready for it to leave."

WNMU President Joseph Shepard read from a recent article in Forbes Magazine that named New Mexico as the No. 1 "death spiral' state, with 1.53 takers to every one maker. The article called the state a "fiscal hell hole."

"When people move here, they want good higher education," Shepard said. "Hold me accountable on how to improve the university. I moved here to improve the quality of life that requires a good university. You need to support us. We thank the county and city for their collaboration with us.

"As a group, we need to move from rhetoric to implementation," he continued. "I want to be part of the conversation with people wanting to come in."

Kim Clark, Silver City Regional Association of REALTORS®, Inc. executive and government affairs director, said she would prefer to create robust local businesses, without bringing in news ones. "The general community doesn't like economic development because they think it is about bringing in new businesses. Let's focus on the local ones."

John Mahl of J&J Signs said what is prohibiting him from expanding his business is one individual inspector who shut down an entire project. "He is hampering contractors. One individual working for the state is hampering many businesses. Yes, regulations are needed for public safety, but this one person is not helping. Why would anyone want to open a business here? We need an advocate for the private sector."

Kurt Albershardt, owner of the Murray Hotel, said he has been down that road. "Another survey showed the corruption in this state. When you don't know whether you are going to get the right price, for instance. The Lowes in Albuquerque is cheaper than the Lowes in Las Cruces."

Earl Montoya, self-styled community watchdog, said he's hearing great things that the group wants to do, "but it's too broad a front. How do you establish priorities?  As far as attracting businesses, Shepard hit the core problem. That's education. Businesses need employees with a work ethic. For implementation, you need measurables; for instance, what is the number of businesses now and the number six months from now. The return on investment is a measurable."

Kasten echoed that economic development has become a bad word in Grant County. "It's time to quit having so many entities to speak for Grant County. We need one. Stop asking for state and federal grants. If we're not able to step forward, it's now or never. " Speaking of surveys, he said the Gila EDA needs to know the barriers to existing businesses and new ones.

Tiffany Knauf, Grant County Community Health Council coordinator, said she would be more than willing to partner on a survey.

Gruber was asked if she had impediments to expansion in her company.

"No," she said. "We've done what we're supposed to do. We've put money aside to help through hard times. I don't have many complaints. I do look forward to getting from 25 employees back up to 35 again. We need the economy to grow. It is growing locally. Within the past month, I have received a dozen local orders."

Shepard concurred on the need to support locally. "We brought in 22 new faculty members and expanded our student numbers. We can do multipliers to support what we have locally. It is most expensive to bring in from the outside."

Ramirez invited business people to the table. "I have work force problems. My employees are not highly educated, and it's hard to get them to show up to work."

Mahl said the Aldo Leopold High School has an excellent internship program.

Grant County Planner Anthony Gutierrez reminded those in attendance that the county has a strategic economic development plan in place. "Don't throw it aside and start over on a Gila EDA plan. Excellent strategies are all in there, and not one person has come into my office to look at it."  He pointed out that in speaking of schools, Cliff is one of the more competitive in the state. "Some other schools need to look at Cliff's model."

Community reports will be covered in a subsequent article.

Live from Silver City

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