[Editor's Note: This is part 1 of a multi-article series on the Oct. 11 work session and the Oct. 13 regular meeting.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
During public input, Levi Stockton, Advanced Airlines president and pilot, spoke by telephone.
"We've been in Silver City for four years now," Stockton said. "In our new bid we are asking for four more years. During the time we've been here our flight completion is at 98.9 percent and our on-time performance is at 96.2 percent, with more than 34,000 passengers. We are also involved in various activities in Silver City and Grant County. We love Grant County and we think you love Advanced Air, so we would like to continue for four more years."
The agenda then went into presentations.
The first came from Steve Chavira, director of the Grant County Workforce and Economic Development Alliance, known as GWEDA.
"First I want to express my condolences on the loss of (former planning director) Priscilla Shoup," Chavira said. "I worked with her.
"I'm sorry it's been so long since I've given a report," he apologized. "I submitted a report to you on what we're doing. I will give an overview. As a board, we had a retreat in August to plan for the rest of this year and through 2023. Our goal is to be sustainable by the fourth quarter of next year. What we've been focusing on it outreach to people who need help and guidance. We collaborate with a lot of groups across the region, as well as individuals to make sure we're value driven, so people see the value of what we're doing. We're trying to make sure we're included in the conversations on capacity building. We did settle on three directions. Areas where we focus include workforce development through the education realm. We have met with the schools to increase jobs, to increase the output, to enhance the quality of life, all the way from students to put them in a trajectory of success. We want to make sure that proper curricula are developed.
"Our second realm is the film industry as it applies to Grant County," Chavira continued. "It will bring job creation and tourism. How can it be impactful in Grant County? I got approval to talk to you, to Silver City and the university. We are working with the COG (Council of Governments) to bring a film liaison role into GWEDA. It will include set design and script writing. The current film liaison has done an excellent job, Emily Gojkovich of the COG. In an effort to share the work we are requesting to bring the liaison into GWEDA."
The third focus that "we've been doing since the beginning is enhanced action to become certified as an economic development organization. Then maybe we could bring in industries like Starbucks or Trader Joe's. They would come to us, and we can give them the demographic information they want. If we become a certified economic development organization, we want to be a resource partner for enhancement of the community for capacity. The list of activities we've been participating in since the beginning of the organization is lengthy. I am serving on state and national committees. We complied with our quarterly synopsis, which gives you an idea of what we've been trying to do."
District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce noted that Lea County has put together a skilled trades pamphlet. "We don't have to re-invent the wheel. We are working with Yvette Vegas of Workforce Solutions. Your website has remained the same. Your reports on grants seem to be the same. I think it's a good idea to get reports on the accomplishments on these three focuses and progress on the certified economic development organization."
District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne said he agreed with quarterly reporting. "You said you hope to reach self-sustainability even if you plan to ask for county support. In that case, quarterly reports are critical."
Chavira said he had met with Lea County to model the skilled trades pamphlet. "And I have a strong connection with Yvette Vegas. We need self-sustainability to stay open after the end of the grant and the funding runs out. We are seeking alternative funding sources. Many economic development organizations are public-private partnerships. Potentially we can get funding from the county and have memberships to help us be where we need to be. We are value building, so when we seek requests, it shows our eligibility for funding. We've done that from the beginning of the grant process, but now our goal is to ask for an extension of the timeline, because we didn't really get started until a year after we received the grant. The possibilities are there, and self-sustainability is our goal. We are working with businesses, large, small and micro businesses."
Browne said he is looking for actual numbers of what "you need for self-sustainability. You have used a lot of abstract economic development terms. Maybe next time, you can give us examples of outcomes. In the recruitment portion, when a company contacts you, is there an evaluation of the company?"
"Yes, we have a process," Chavira said. "We have a due diligence committee that has remained as emerging opportunities come to us. Everyone not on our board of directors is on a committee. We vet the company to make sure they have realistic options. We've talked to solar companies, as well as companies that want to build hotels and other various business opportunities. We run the questions through the committee that includes the county manager, the town manager and assistant manager and Dr. Manzanares at the university. We have a robust list of questions and concerns. The organization realizes that opportunities are not as strong as they thought they were. The committee then takes it to the full board and there is a lot of discussion. When we can bring it to the county or the town council, then we can run with it."
District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards said she, too, would like to see specific numbers. "It would be prudent to bring that to us before the next budget cycle. My other questions are on the recruitment process and the vetting process. The people you named for the emerging opportunities committee I suspect are not looking through the lens of moving the poverty level. I'm a huge believer in pathways out of poverty. I want to know how that committee is addressing that issue. We need opportunities for Grant County residents. Don't just bring in people. I can't stress it enough that we need to help people in the community who are struggling. I'm curious about the film thing. I think workforce development is the No. 1 issue and I realize that people need opportunities. Film is incredibly important across the state, but Albuquerque and Santa Fe have buckets of money to put toward film. Why did you pick film for our community which has fewer resources?"
Chavira said he agreed that the group needs to have a focus on poverty. "When we look at economic development, people travel out of town. Startups and jobs in locally owned companies call fill those slots. Lee Gruber is part of the emerging opportunities committee. We want to bring a focus on how local small businesses can grow, like hers did. We are working with the poverty task force, which includes the Health Council and Karen Whitlock. Our goal is to bring economic development-based jobs to the community that offer opportunities to residents that turn into service-based jobs."
On the film issue, he said: "If you have paid attention through last year, we got left in the dust. The film commission gave $40 million to every institution, except for Western New Mexico University. Skilled trades are helping people get jobs. A carpenter can make money on set design. Lighting people can add to what they are already doing. We've been told many times that our location is good. If we had skilled trades locally that would make coming in to do a film more attractive. The film liaison role would make sure we're addressing concerns. It doesn't mean film is the only place we're focusing."
Edwards invited Chavira to name people, such as he had named Lee Gruber. "I understand economic-based jobs and bringing in service jobs. There is a trend toward service jobs, but they are not ideal for those raising families. They are not synonymous with good jobs. We need living-wage jobs. We need to shed a glimmer on local jobs, not union-based jobs. I don't want to see local people not get paid the same."
Chavira said he agreed completely. "If a movie company is paying someone $30 plus mileage to drive from Albuquerque, I want to make sure that locals will get $30 here. We want to make sure locals are given the same opportunities, so the company sees that their overhead costs less here."
Ponce said he sees the nation going toward renewable energy. "The county needs a five-year plan for renewable energy. We need the infrastructure. I'm not against film, but I would like to see a plan for renewable energy. I would like names of those on the board. Please send them to us."
Chavira said if the county develops a plan on renewable energy, "we want to be part of the solution."
The next presentation will come from the Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce, which runs the Grant County Veterans Memorial Business and Conference Center.