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img 2069 copyBrianna Gallegos of the NM Tourism DepartmentBy Mary Alice Murphy

The Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly luncheon and heard first from representatives of the New Mexico Department of Tourism.

"I must admit," Brianna Gallegos said, "I go all over the state, but Silver City is one of my favorite places."

She showed a short video about Silver City and the surrounding area.

"We have many stories in New Mexico," Gallegos said. "You in Silver City have had a $14 million increase in tourism over the past five years, not only in food and beverage service, but in lodging, too."

She said the tourism industry in the state brought in $7.1 billion in 2018. Visitor spending sustains 8.5 percent of all jobs in New Mexico. Tourism offsets $900 in state and local taxes for every household in the state.

Gallegos presented a number of statistics, which can be read at https://assets.simpleviewinc.com/simpleview/image/upload/v1/clients/newmexico/New_Mexico_Visitor_Economic_Impact_2018_217cb9e7-eaea-45fe-8fce-e193082ba813.pdf

More than half of visitor spending is in lodging and food and beverage establishments, with spending in other sectors, including recreation, retails and local and air transportation. A note at the bottom of the graph says that lodging spending includes dollars spent on second homes.

"Grant County and Silver City has also seen a 23 percent growth in tourism since 2013," Gallegos reported. "We have a marketing powerhouse in our department, and it casts a net far and wide. We can reach more people. When we have a collaborative community, we have marketing everywhere. I challenge you to post on all your social media."

Andrea Lawrence, marking department, said she does destination marketing. "The bulk of our budget at the state level is for perception and awareness marketing. We don't have a product problem in New Mexico, because we have a lot of amazing assets. We have to bust myths that we are basically a desert with nothing to do. We try to reach venturesome travelers on a quest for adventure and authenticity. We have identified the key markets, such as San Diego, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Chicago, because we have direct flights into Albuquerque. We continue to work our way into Austin and into Denver, a fly-drive market."

She said that Silver City has done a lot of advertising in Tucson. Phoenix is also a drive market to Silver City, as it is closer than Santa Fe.

"We participate in cooperative marketing and advertising with Grant County and Silver City," Lawrence said. "We've been matching those dollars one-to-one. What's really good is that Silver City is not afraid of collaborating with Grant County. I call it a gold star collaboration. You have reached 15,941,741 people through print, video, creative products and social media. It's evident you're thinking in the mind of a traveler."

The website newmexico.org is for the traveler and newmexico.org/industry is where research is shared.

"The 2021 grant cycle opens March 3," Lawrence said. What we want to see is not only collaboration, but, also, we are looking for private money to match. If you take a small marketing budget, say $5,000, if you utilize our medium, New Mexico Magazine, and collaborate, you can double or triple that funding."

Next she talked about the New Mexico True Certified program, which has been going on for four year. "If there are people making things or growing things, invite them to join. It's free to join, but there are hoops to jump through. We provide the education to help you."

The New Mexico Clean and Beautiful program is the state leader for Keep America Beautiful. "Your area has participated in the program over the years. It is also a grant program, with a 25 percent in-kind match. It's a great way to bring new projects to the area. It opens on March 2, with a webinar to explain the process on Feb. 29."

Gallegos said region boards are found throughout the state. "They are our advisory boards. We participate with the Google My Business tool. We want to increase our listings for where to eat in Silver City, for instance. The webinar is still on our website. It speaks to tourism, but also relates to any other business. We have a lot of data online. You can list your business on our partner portal, and you manage it. We also have a newsletter for New Mexico True called Tourism Talk, which you can sign up for. We have a Twitter handle @nmtourism, a Facebook page at New Mexico Tourism Industry, and a YouTube channel at Visit New Mexico has all our amazing videos."

Charmeine Wait of Silver City MainStreet asked if Clean and Beautiful would support a mural.

Lawrence said the Clean and Beautiful program has eligibility requirements. " There is anecdotal evidence that murals can discourage graffiti It's great if you can get folks involved. I can put you in contact with the right person."

The Clean and Beautiful grant opportunity runs through March, and the collaborate marketing opens March 3.

Next, Gila Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Taffy Arias said she and Chief Financial Officer Richard Stokes wanted to give members some information on what's going on at the hospital.

"We, as an administrative board, have met with our Board of Trustees, our county commissioners, and hospital staff," Arias said. "We've been discussing this for a while. We wanted to share with you. About 2 ½ years ago when I moved here, I was so excited about the values of this hospital. One of the first startling things I learned was the hospital was $6 million in the hole. And oh, by the way, the commissioners are considering other options, which included a possible sale to a for-profit system. We were starting to see a turnaround, but we wanted to present our strategy to keep our hospital independent. One element we mentioned in the strategy was to become a critical access hospital. I was one of the ignorant ones, thinking it was a glorified emergency room. That is far from the truth. We will share what it would mean to the community.

"There are several stipulations to be a critical access hospital," she continued. "No. 1, you cannot be licensed for more than 25 beds and your yearly average length of stay cannot be more than 96 hours. So right now, Gila Regional, for the past several years has had an average stay of three days, 72 hours, and our average census has been 18. So, you ask why become critical access? It is a Medicare reimbursement program. It would benefit the hospital by $4 million to $5.7 million a year. Up until last year, Richard and I had concerns about what to do. Then on a Thursday last year, we learned that on Friday we were going to lose $9 million in state reimbursement overnight. Put it in relationship to your own business, realize what the impact would be. So, we started looking at other options to bring revenue into our beautiful, functional hospital, including new services. One was critical access status. So, we took it back to the board; the board took it to the County Commission and said let's discuss this. We have to do the best for our community. We want you to know that nothing changes in the hospital, no massive layoffs, services remain as they are. It's just a reimbursement system."

Stokes said: "I call it the critical access reimbursement program. Congress created it to benefit rural hospitals. Las Cruces and Albuquerque hospitals get paid more for the same procedures than we do here. We don't have hundreds of discharges a day. Critical access will pay 101 percent of allowable costs. Right now, Medicaid pays 57 percent of costs."

He noted that the state also cut the $5 million Gila Regional was supposed to get for 2017. "Our hospital had to do what it needs to do to keep the service in the community. I was told that we have to do what we need to do. We are already a critical access hospital today. We just don't have the designation, so we don't benefit from the reimbursement system."

"The board told us to prepare the form we need to submit, but not to submit it yet," Stokes continued. "It will be a six- to nine-month process. The downside that we have to address is that Medicare patients without a supplemental plan will have a larger payment, so, we commissioned a company to review our Medicare usage. We have made the decision to reduce charges for some of our most-used services. We will pass it on to Medicare when we have the critical access designation.

"I'm pleased to tell you that we have again achieved 4-star quality," he said. "Quality-wise you will get better care than you would get in Las Cruces or El Paso. The closest hospital where you can get 5-star quality is St. Christus in Santa Fe."

Arias said: "We have high quality because of our unbelievable staff."

"I asked what our in-hospital infection rate is," Stokes said. "It's basically zero. With the critical access designation, we will have no restrictions on services. We are a bigger hospital than many with the critical access designation, but by no means the largest."

Arias said: "You will not know the difference at Gila Regional with the critical access designation. We will provide the same compassionate care."

In announcements, the chamber board members in charge of the annual awards banquet announced it would take place at the conference center on March 26, with a fiesta theme. They listed the award categories and asked for nominations. The newest award will be the Grant County Employee of the Year. The deadline for nominations is March 13, "but please get them in as soon as possible. The speaker for the event will be a motivational speaker, Christopher Brooks, from El Paso, with strategies for small businesses to grow and thrive, focusing on W.I.N.S.—Wow, Incorporate, Navigate and Sustain."

Karen Beckenbach of Grant County Community Concerts Association said two concerts are coming up—Feb. 24 will feature Dan Miller's Cowboy Music Revue and on March 3, Sons of Serendip will perform.

Debbie Nennich of W & N Enterprises said they had recently put carpet in the Four Seasons Room at the Wrangler.

Annette Toney of Girl Scouts of the Desert Southwest announced the beginning of cookie season and handed out a box of cookies to those who had a green C on their notice.

Jo Lutz of the Silver City Museum encouraged attendance at Silver City Territorial Charter Day on Feb. 15, 2020, with activities taking place all day in various venues around town, including the Museum Annex beginning in the morning with an Urban Run, mining activities at the annex, history of the charter at El Sol, an antique gun show at the Murray, a burlesque baseball game at Old James Stadium, and ending with a ball at the Murray Ballroom.

Chamber Director Steve Chavira said a lot is going on in the Grant County Veterans Memorial Business and Conference Center. "We are working on increasing utilization of the building. Grant County Day in Santa Fe with Prospectors at the legislative session was wonderful."

"I have an open-door policy," Chavira said. "We're here for you. We are in the process of adjusting staff, Kayleigh Ruebush and Wendy Ratliff are part of my transition team and will be leaving soon. For our monthly luncheons, we want to bring to you what you want to know about."

Live from Silver City

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