At the REDI: Addressing county needs with a regional approach

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By The Staff

Our economy. Our educational system. Our environment.

These are core elements that define our county – issues that, in fact, define our neighboring communities, our state and our nation. As representatives of Los Alamos County, we are on a neverending quest for funding, resources and tools to improve those fundamental aspects that define each citizen’s quality of life.

Given the state of our world, it is more important than ever to partner with our neighbors and combine our resources to collectively address each of our community’s most pressing needs.

Enter REDI, the Regional Economic Development Initiative designed to produce a Regional Economic Development Strategic Plan that will effect dramatic economic development change in Northern New Mexico over the next 25 years. Sponsored by Los Alamos County’s Progress Through Partnering initiative, the REDI process is facilitated by the Regional Development Corporation (RDC).

Since December 2007, Los Alamos County representatives have been working alongside our counterparts in Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Taos counties to develop a plan with action items that can be immediately implemented and realized by our citizenry.

First, we identified needs common to all the counties in the Northern New Mexico region by participating in an extensive interview process with more than 60 stakeholders — those people most familiar with the challenges our communities face every day, including representatives from local governments, tribal governments, institutions of higher education, chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, school districts, major private sector entities, and state and federal entities.

The feedback from communities, as well as third-party research commissioned by the RDC,confirmed the issues our regional needs to address now:

We are overly dependent on government jobs and investment.

We have some of the lowest educational indicators in the U.S. and our rural schools typically lag behind.

Some of our counties have very low incomes and high poverty rates.

Northern New Mexico suffers from “brain drain” of its best and brightest that move away for better economic opportunities and lower costs of living.

There is a projected and substantial shift in New Mexico’s population to urban areas.

While not all of these issues apply to our county specifically, the impact of the issues suffered throughout our region ultimately affects our ability to grow and improve.

To address these regional challenges, the REDI process has established five goals that we are using to guide our process and our action plans: 1) Diversify the economy; 2) Develop a high-quality workforce; 3) Increase the number of higher-paying jobs; 4) Retain and attract youth and families; 5) Make rural communities vibrant.

Last month, we participated in the “May Day Consensus” event where we prioritized the top four industries that are established or emerging throughout the northern New Mexico region: renewable energy/green industry, technology, value-added agriculture and entertainment.

This summer, we are splitting up into different regional expert teams to create implementation plans for the next one to five years. Experts from each participating county and city will bring their knowledge and experience to one of four regional teams focused on the following strategic areas: economic development services, human capital, infrastructure or public policy. The RDC will then apply the proposed strategies and projects to the appropriate industries.

By summer’s end, REDI will produce and distribute the product of our work—a comprehensive draft of the Regional Economic Development Strategic Plan, including funding and political strategy elements, as well as the implementation plans for specific economic development projects. The public will have the chance to weigh in on the plan at a final stakeholder meeting to be held in late September.

In the meantime, I urge anyone interested in the regional state of our economy, environment, education system and our general quality of life to keep a close eye on www.nnmredi.org as each new development and document is posted.