by Charlie McKee

On Friday, September 21, 2012, the focus of this month's Gila Economic Development Alliance Roundtable session was jobs in Grant County: how to create them; how to train for them; and how to retain them in Grant County.

Sara Haring, the State of New Mexico's Program Director for the Job Training Incentive Program, and Grant County's Bonnie Zelinko of Workforce Connections were the featured presenters at the Roundtable.

Zelinko and her staff announced the upcoming "Practical Insights for Employers 2012," or PIE, event that is being hosted by the Silver City Workforce Connections Center on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012. The event includes presenters from local, state, and federal agencies who will inform local business owners about new legislation and how it affects them. Zelinko emphasized that she and her staff have designed the event to be as convenient as possible for local employers to participate, in that: there is no cost to participants; it will be held at the Grant County Administration Building; it takes only a portion of the business day from 9:00 am to 2 pm; and delicious pies will be served before the meeting at 8:30 am, and pizza pie will be served for lunch. The topics covered will include:
•    Minimum Wage & Hour Issues
•    Workers Compensation
•    Licenses & Regulations
•    Unemployment Insurances Taxes/Issues
•    Employment Law and more

Zelinko also made the point that Workforce Connections offers numerous services to employers that are not currently being utilized to their potential.  She underlined that the organization has evolved in giant leaps beyond its erstwhile stigma of "unemployment office" and now offers a state-of-the-art computer system that is linked to 20 job banks, is open to everyone in the region, and is a "virtual 'One Stop System' for businesses."  The system provides information on jobs throughout the state and the country and is a valuable resource for hiring entities.  In addition, the Workforce Connection has a mobile unit that can travel to job fairs and hiring events to support employers in their recruiting efforts.

When asked about the current status of job availability in Grant County, Zelinko reported that new unemployment claims are down significantly and that employers are reporting good news in terms of hiring.  Job orders are increasing in the area, and it is excellent that the mines are hiring again.  Zelinko feels that locals really do want to go to work when jobs become available.  She also pointed out that the new WNMU policies requiring students to do an internship with a local business and to serve as a volunteer in the community put the spotlight on our business owners to provide jobs for the students, giving them an incentive to stay in the County when they graduate.

Next, Sara Haring of the NM Economic Development Department explained the incentive programs available to local employers to support the growth of economic-based businesses in New Mexico.  EDD accomplishes this through the Job Training Incentive Program (JTIP), which partially reimburses employers for wages, travel expenses, and training costs to train new employees in newly created jobs.  NMEDD staff members assist employers through the process from the planning stages of job creation and application to the program through the hiring and reimbursement processes.  Eligible businesses include manufacturers, "green" businesses, and some headquarters operations.  For qualifying jobs, the reimbursement percent varies from 50% to 75% based on location.  Haring believes that Grant County's rural and economically disadvantaged location may qualify businesses for up to 75% wage reimbursement for JTIP-approved hires.

Both Zelinko and Haring emphatically stated that there are numerous opportunities to obtain funding support for job creation and retention in Grant County of which local businesses are not taking advantage.  In addition, the Department of Workforce Solutions and JTIP are collaborating with higher education institutions around the state to customize curricula to fit local business hiring needs.  Lastly, they stated that another lost opportunity is funding to support the hiring of recently returning Veterans, and local businesses really need to focus on taking advantage of these financial incentives to hiring.

Following the featured presentations, the Roundtable members gave their reports.

Arlene Schadel, Grant County Economic Development Coordinator, announced that there would be a presentation of new copper mine rules at SBDC on September 26 from 7 to 9 pm.  She added that Freeport McMoran received an award from the NM Environment Department for its reclamation efforts and that it has added more than 600 jobs to the County since reopening.

Grant County Planner Anthony Gutierrez has been working on plans for a small business and industrial park, as well as a local transportation network that includes biking and walking pathways.

Eileen Sullivan of the Silver City Public Library announced that the renovations of the library are on track for completion by the end of November.  She also asked for everyone's support of the state library bond initiative, Library General Obligation Bond Issue B, in the upcoming November election.

Lucy Whitmarsh of MainStreet has been working on the Master Plan for the linking of Pinos Altos Creek, Silva Creek, and San Vicente Creek (Big Ditch) through the creation of hiking and walking pathways.  MainStreet is collaborating with the County, the Town of Silver City, and other local entities in this effort.  MainStreet's goal is to incorporate improvements to Main Street Plaza, where the Farmers' Market is located, in the plan, including a public performance space.  Whitmarsh emphasized that MainStreet funding would pay for these enhancements and not take away any monies supporting the rest of the Master Plan.

Priscilla Lucero of the Council of Governments announced that state funding for Colonias infrastructure improvements, for which Grant County qualifies, has been increased from $13 million to $17 million.  She also informed the group of the upcoming Infrastructure Finance Conference to be held in Taos from October 24 through 26.  Lastly, she reminded everyone that Freeport McMoran Community Investment grant applications are due December 1, 2012.

Tiffany Knauf of the Grant County Community Health Council added that the Freeport McMoran Community Enhancement Fund grant applications for training are due October 9, 2012.  In addition, she announced the collection of over 4,600 Grant County Assessment surveys (more than 20% of Grant County residents), but that more surveys are needed from men.  Knauf stated that the page dedicated to seniors has been a major success.  Lastly, she reported even more success with the 2,800-person turnout at the Red Hot Chile Fiesta for children.

Kim Clark of the Silver City Regional Association of Realtors reported that home sales are up and, even more significantly, land and commercial property sales have increased.

Charlie McKee, representing Mary Alice Murphy of the Fort Bayard Restoration and Development Coalition, reported continuing efforts by local governments and WNMU to work with state agencies in developing innovative uses for the Fort Bayard property.

Linda Smrkovsky of Deming-Luna County Economic Development reported that Senator Tom Udall will be taking over retiring Senator Bingaman's role in developing the Southwest Energy Strategic Plan.  She then announced that Walgreen's will be building a new store in Deming and that the County will be taking over the management of the StarMax Theater from the current management.

Steven Montaño of NMEDD thanked Arlene Schadel for all her efforts on behalf of Grant County.

Steven Gonzalez of NMEDD announced the Annual Conference of Industrial Executives to take place in Ruidoso on September 25 and 26, 2012.

Finally, GEDA Board Member Jeremiah Garcia announced that the next meeting would be on October 19, 2012, urged everyone to attend the Grant County Fair Sept. 25-29, and adjourned the meeting.