Interim Economic and Rural Development Legislative Committee meets in Silver City July 14-15
Editor's Note: This is part one of an undetermined number of articles to come on the interim legisltive committee meeting in Silver City.
By Mary Alice Murphy
Benny Shendo, committee chairman, welcomed the members and audience participants to the Interim Economic and Rural Development Legislative Committee meeting in the Western New Mexico University Miller Library. He presented apologies from vice chairman Rep. Dianne Hamilton, who was unable to attend. She recently had knee surgery.
"It's more challenging to talk about rural economic development, which is just as important as economic development in cities," Shendo said. He explained the committee, for that reason, tries to hold its meetings in rural areas.
Silver City Mayor Michael Morones gave welcoming remarks. "It's always a pleasure to have you here. In Silver City, we've had to rely on one finite resource for about a century. We're tried to lead to make ourselves more sustainable. We were one of the first MainStreet projects in the state, one of the first Arts and Cultural Districts. Without state government helping us, it would be hard. That's why we value this committee."
Bruce Ashburn, in place of Grant County Commission Chairman Brett Kasten, who had a prior appointment, represented Prospectors. "I would like to thank all the sponsors for this event. I would also like to announce that due to the uncertain weather, we have moved the reception to indoors. I would like to thank Laura Howell, Kim Clark and Julie Morales, all Prospectors, who do a lot of work behind the scenes." To the committee members, he said: "We appreciate your time and commitment to what you do"
WNMU President Joseph Shepard also welcomed the committee members and recognized Santa Clara Mayor Richard Bauch, in the audience, as a quiet leader.
"Thank you so much for being here," Shepard said. "To understand our dilemma as a rural area, you have to walk in our constituents' shoes. All of you, and that includes Rep. Hamilton, Rep. John Zimmerman, Sen. Howie Morales (who attended as a guest, not as a committee member), as well as former Rep. Rudy Martinez, have given bipartisan support to our local needs. We welcome anything we can do to assist you."
Shendo recognized Martinez, who sat in the back of the room.
Shepard then led off the program session with a talk on Collaborative Partnerships.
He began with an illustrative story. A shepherd was with his flock when a yuppie in a BMW convertible pulled up to the fence. He said to the shepherd," If I can guess how many sheep you have, will you give me one of them?" The shepherd agreed. The yuppie pulled out his smartphone, pulled up a satellite feed and pronounced: "You have 1,537 sheep." The shepherd agreed that was the exact number and asked him to pick out one, which the yuppie did. "But if I can tell you what you do, will you give me my sheep back?" the shepherd asked. The yuppie agreed. "You are a consultant," the shepherd said. "That's right," the yuppie said. How did you figure that out?" "Well, you pulled up, didn't know anything about sheep, asked a question I already knew the answer to, and then you answered it. Now will you give me back my sheepdog?"
"The reality is that economic development is a collaborative effort to attract opportunities for future generations," Shepard said. "You have noticed the work we are doing on the landscape. One of my visions is for the landscape to be almost like an arboretum. But you have to dig up the ground. We had to remove the about 100-year-old cypresses that were diseased and beetle-infested. Yes, it was sad to see the old trees go, but between now and December, we plan to plant close to 200 trees all over the campus to provide a canopy for future generations."
He cited 15 components to economic development. The first is an integrated approach, with the two chambers, the Small Business Development Center, the Gila Economic Development Alliance, Workforce Connection, the university, the mine, the hospital and local governments.
"We have some excellent leadership, but if we are not collaborative, we will get nowhere," Shepard continued. "We have decided to co-locate the chambers, the SBDC, the Gila EDA and the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society in the same building-Watts Hall-where they can share ideas and work in a collaborative fashion."
The second idea is a vision with inclusion. "Without inclusion, a vision will fall flat. Take Japan as an example. Sixty years ago, you wouldn't buy what the country made because it was junk, now they offer great products. China sends its best and brightest students to the U.S. for university education. China has 1.3 billion people. You take the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent and you have 130,000 people. But we are seeing only the best and brightest at Stanford, for example. The U.S. is ranked something like 26th in the world in education. Then why are countries sending their best and brightest to us? Because our universities encourage creativity and thinking for themselves."
The third piece is to strive for poverty reduction. "We tend to lack the resources to sustain enterprise."
The fourth is local focus. "We cannot be all things to all people. We need to identify our qualities."
The fifth is to identify an industry cluster. "We're not very close to much. Clusters work. In Naples, Florida, in 1983, a man with a vision took a mosquito-infested swamp and built a Ritz-Carlton Hotel. I'm not saying we should build a Ritz-Carlton here, but he took that swamp and turned it into one of the premiere places to work and live."
"Sixth is critical-wired communities," Shepard said. "When I came here four years ago, we had no voicemail on campus. Now we do have voicemail and 200 megabytes of broadband. We need to work on our wired and wireless infrastructure in this state. It will make a difference in New Mexico. We will get better in technology. Go to Austin, Texas, today to see what they have. It's like a tree, you have to plant it."
Seventh is long-term investment. "Look beyond your term of office. Look at the great, grand future you can build."
Human investment is eighth. "To bring in any company, you have to have the right school system. You have to support the education system from birth through graduate programs."
Ninth is environmental responsibility. "You have to have a balance. In California, they have to make a decision on a train or water. I am an avid backpacker. We have to be sensitive about what we do."
Corporate responsibility is 10th. "Corporations must have civic partnerships. Corporations, such as Freeport-McMoRan, provide livelihoods, and are extracting resources in a responsible way. They also have a civic responsibility. Freeport does participate in our communities trying to make them sustainable, so that when copper hits a price lower than the cost of extraction, we won't be relying only on the company to support the community."
In 11th place is compact development. "We have to look at zoning, infrastructure and turn our assets into a research project. Old Fort Bayard is a great place for economic development."
A location has to be livable, which is the 12th component. "We built a new theater, because there was no longer a theater in town. We are building a fitness center for students, faculty and staff, but it will be open to the public. I believe a university needs to be a cultural Mecca. We often say our largest retailer is Amazon.com."
In 13th place is to be distinctive and branded. In 14th, to be focused, and in 15th spot is regional collaboration.
"Priscilla Lucero of the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments does a tremendous amount of regional collaboration," Shepard said. "We need to look at Luna County and beyond. Western has four campuses in addition to this one-in Gallup, Truth or Consequences, Lordsburg and Deming. We can do many online courses. We have 3,500 students. Help us with technology. If you want high quality, you need access to a lemon-drop martini. You can't find one in downtown Silver City."
Sen. William E. Sharer said he would like to add one more component. "Sometimes we repel economic development. The liquor license issue is one way we repel economic development. With more regulations, we have made it harder for small businesses to succeed. Amazon and Walmart, with their herds of attorneys, can get around regulations. Small businesses cannot afford to get around them. Regulations are the number 1 repellent."
"Yes, permits are impediments," Shepard said. "The Pink Store opened its first satellite store out of Palomas, Mexico, here in Silver City. They are having to overcome impediments. We need to figure out common-sense approaches."
Rep. Bealquin "Bill" Gomez said, at a recent meeting of the Jobs Council, the members had looked at broadband expansion. "We are working on it. Another issue is attracting retirees."
Rep. Rick Little said a monopoly had been developed through the liquor license laws. "We are looking at it hard and we're open to any suggestions."
Shepard said if he had a liquor license that had been passed down through his family, he wouldn't like it if the state created more and diluted his asset. "There are ways to compensate current liquor license owners through tax breaks. We can create a license that is non-transferable, so it's not as valuable. We are at a competitive disadvantage."
Little said the liquor license situation has a lot of issues. "I think it needs to be done rapidly to get past the current situation."
Rep. John Zimmerman said the state is working hard on broadband. "Bringing it to rural areas is important, but we're not there yet. We need to think more out of the box, and put efforts into our future."
"I believe this state has tremendous resources in its people," Shepard said. "We have a high level of capacity if we involve the national labs and the universities. How do we partner with Catron County and Cliff-Gila?"
Zimmerman said when he was at White Sands Missile Range, as communications officer, he oversaw the installation of fiber optics. "We need to bring our state into the modern world. I want to make this state No. 1 in technology."
Rep. Patricia Roybal-Caballero said she, as a certified economic developer, saw Shepard's presentation as a basic course in economic development. "The ultimate goal is the reduction and elimination of poverty. It will have a domino effect of resources and opportunities to create a model for the distribution of equitable opportunities. We need to stay focused, especially on the local level. I invite you to be a guest lecturer, because I think you have a great vision."
"I can't take credit for the 15 points, but I've seen them in action," Shepard said. "That area in Florida is now providing more than $1 billion to the Florida economy."
Rep. Eliseo Lee AlcÃ³n emphasized the importance of early education. 'The earlier we start, the better we are." He said every level of education completed puts more money in the pocket of that person, but "they need a good foundation. The family and an early start help. They make a world of difference. "
Shepard agreed and said in the first five years of life, the brain developing the fastest. "My wife Marcela and I raised our children from birth to be bilingual. But many children do not have the opportunity of a family in education."
AlcÃ³n said, in a lot of families, both parents work, but "it is our obligation to make sure children are educated. Parents can't do it by themselves."
Morales commented on students coming to the U.S. for the creativity. "What are some things we can look at to continue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) but also nurture creativity?"
"The first place schools cut when funding is lowered is the arts," Shepard said. "We could have the best STEM programs, and some countries do that, but they can't think. They can't carry on a conversation. Humanities and arts provide the ability to communicate, which is key."
Morales noted that the U.S. is farther back in education, but "when we eliminate poverty or level it out, we come out second to Shanghai. Should we make more use of assessments or is there a better approach?"
Shepard said some people test well, while others don't. "There are a lot of other variables. Shanghai is not as multi-cultural as we are. The GPA and passing standardized test are just one element. At the Santa Fe High School of the Arts, they are creative. I don't know the answer, but if you just focus on standardized testing, you are missing the full picture of the person."
Morales said rarely does one talk about quality of life as part of economic development. "We don't talk about poverty or the crime rate. We have to address them. Economic gardening is growing from within."
Shepard said in economic development, the majority of businesses are small mom-and-pops. "How do we help them and provide the infrastructure they need? If a worker has small children, if the educational system is not where he wants to work, he may make a different decision. We need to increase our expectations. We need to celebrate who we are."
Shendo said he believed the presentation had resonated with the committee and with the audience. He said when he attended Stanford University in the '90s, it was paperless, "then in 2000, I came back to New Mexico and was back to writing memos."
Sen. Ron Griggs said government regulations impede economic development. "We hurt as much as we help. We make it difficult for a business to be here. The attitudes of state employees have been engrained in them to be difficult instead of helpful. We need to make them more business friendly. We need them to be excited about helping businesses."
"The societal issues we face are substantial," Griggs said. "We need to find balance. We have to put back pride in work. Once, it was humiliating to have to take government assistance. We have gotten away from that, so that now it's OK to take that assistance. We have to make work something to strive for. In the last session, we looked at right-to-work. Some agreed, some not. If not being a right-to-work state is an impediment, then we need to get rid of that and put in right-to-work."
He addressed the liquor license issue and said incremental steps will not fix it. "We need to look at it on a bigger scope. We need an open door for businesses to come in to fix our state. We need to change the tax structure. We need to stop making it difficult for businesses."
"We need to plant the seed to grow the tree for future generations," Shepard said.
Shendo said what has been done at Jemez Pueblo is restoring the watersheds by cleaning the forests.
The next article will address New Mexico True: Research and Initiatives.