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Tuesday night’s county council meeting was not your typical meeting. County councilors dealt with a light agenda during the session at the White Rock Town Hall. In addition, they met in closed session prior to the 7 p.m. meeting and following the meeting, in order to discuss the acquisition or disposal of real property.
Council was also missing two members, as Ralph Phelps and Sharon Stover were absent.
The highlight of the agenda was a joint presentation by Ed Burckle, executive director of the Regional Development Corporation, and Monica Abeita, Regional Economic Development Initiative program manager. They have both been working with staff from Los Alamos, as well as Rio Arriba, Taos, Santa Fe and their respective cities on the REDI.
The REDI was started in 2006 to utilize some of the county’s financial resources to work with partner governments across the region on projects that would augment the county’s goals and improve circumstances across the region.
In the fall of 2007, the Regional Development Corporation was selected as the contractor to facilitate the development of the plan and the RDC partnered with the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District in that effort.
During Tuesday night’s meeting, Burckle and Abeita showed a PowerPoint presentation that outlined the REDI process, economic development assumptions, goals based on regional needs, the REDI mission, strategic areas, priority projects, implementation strategy and initial governance structure.
Burckle said before he spoke to regional stakeholders about the REDI, most of the counties and cities had put together their own economic development plan and had not looked at a regional plan.
“I interviewed stakeholders and pueblos in northern New Mexico and we put together a strategic focus in strategic areas,” he commented.
During the economic development assumptions portion of the presentation, Abeita mentioned some job wages in northern New Mexico, particularly Rio Arriba County, are low compared to the national wages.
She also pointed out that the private sector is very weak.
“Some of the lowest education indicators are from Northern New Mexico,” she said. She also said that New Mexico and northern New Mexico in particular, are overly dependent on government jobs and investment. One of the REDI goals to help correct this involves diversifying the economy. The goal to combat rural schools that lag behind, thus resulting in low educational indicators involves developing a high-quality workforce.
In speaking with regional stakeholders, it was also discovered that Taos and Rio Arriba counties have very low incomes and high poverty rates. Through REDI, stakeholders are hoping to help fix this by increasing the number of high-paying jobs. In addition, the REDI initiative is also aimed at retaining and attracting youth and families, as well as making rural communities vibrant.
“If people want to live where they grew up, they should be able to do that,” Abeita said.
Following the presentation, Councilor Mike Wismer asked Abeita what level of commitment was expected from regional stakeholders
“All local governments are in complete agreement. They’re grateful to Los Alamos for starting this. Rio Arriba County is contributing $10,000 toward a broadband initiative. I don’t have solid numbers, but I have the sense that they all want to see this continue,” she responded.
Councilor Nona Bowman asked, “Are the pueblos involved?”
Abeita said that the pueblos are involved in the REDI; however, they’re not as involved as other governments. “They sort of wanted us to do the initiative and then see where they fit in afterward,” Abeita said.
Councilor Vincent Chiravalle expressed his support of the regional development plan, then asked Abeita what role Los Alamos National Laboratory would have in the plan.
“We worked on a good, parallel path with Northern New Mexico Connect,” Abeita said. “Coordination with Connect will evolve over time,” she continued.
Chiravalle then asked Abeita whether the money for the broadband initiative would be used for a study.
“Yes. We initially wanted to do a regional study on the issue,” she said. A study on broadband for the whole region would cost a total of $105,000, according to Abeita. Rio Arriba County has pledged to contribute $10,000 to the study, so far. Chiravalle then suggested to Abeita that he’d be in favor of such a study if federal stimulus money could be used to fund it.
Councilor Robert Gibson and County Administrator Max Baker both commended Abeita and Burckle for a job well done. “These folks are first class all the way,” Baker said. He also mentioned that a contract with RDC should be ready by next week, which would allow all those involved to begin working on the implementation of services.
“I have had the privilege of working on this process all the way through. I got to see all the remarkable work you did,” Gibson said. “… Now comes the hard part of getting people to work on this,” he finished.
Following discussion of the REDI, Councilor Gibson, seconded by Wismer, moved to accept the Regional Economic Development Strategic Plan and encourage all Regional Partner Governments to accept the plan and continue to work together on implementation.
After a vote, the motion passed 5-0.