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ESPAÑOLA — The Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDI) held a conference last week to review its first five years of existence and plan for the next five.
One theme echoed throughout the presentations.
“One of our most important accomplishments over the last five years, in my mind, is our ability to work together,” said Kathy Keith, executive director of the Regional Development Corporation (RDC), the organization hired to develop the first five-year strategy.
“When opportunities and adversities have faced us over the last five years, I have been honored and proud to see our region pull together, sit down around the same table and discuss those opportunities and issues and work on them together. It makes us all stronger, and it has helped us move forward together.”
New Mexico Rep. Nick Salazar, a former board member and chair of the RDC and current board chair of the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District (NCNMEDD), spoke about how his own views on REDI have evolved.
“I admit that I was skeptical about anything getting done at the regional level. I was always skeptical about having to compete with Santa Fe and Los Alamos County, so I didn’t want to join,” Salazar said. “But since then I’ve come to realize that it is not only possible but it is essential for all the communities to work together in order to survive and grow.”
U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) took advantage of the gathering of regional leaders to present Salazar with a Congressional recognition of his career with Los Alamos National Laboratory and his leadership in the New Mexico Legislature.
NCNMEDD Executive Director Tim Armer noted that REDI is working with several other entities around the state on more comprehensive economic development strategies.
“The work that we’re doing, together with those entities, is going to formulate a more cohesive, collaborative statewide effort,” Armer said. “So what you’re doing here today is going to be impacting the entire state.”
REDI Program Manager Eric Vasquez highlighted the collaborative accomplishments.
Although the REDINet Northern New Mexico Broadband network is the most visible accomplishment in the past five years, the RDC has been busy on several levels.
REDI has leveraged $250,000 of funding by its members into a 91-percent match with outside funding.
Approximately $2,665,500 has been obtained or is being sought in matching funds.
Keith outlinesd some of those grants: $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for a workforce initiative, $74 million for broadband infrastructure from the U.S. Department of Commerce, and $1 million a year from LANL towards the development of business services.
Shoot Santa Fe has been another very successful initiative. Shoot Santa Fe has promoted the REDI region at three major industry events (Sundance, SxSW and Site Selectors Expo) and was instrumental in a studio decision to film a TV series in Northern New Mexico.
Other initiatives include:
The Workforce Development Accelerate Program has graduated 36 students (89 percent placed in related jobs or went on to a four-year college) and currently has 180 students enrolled.
The Entrepreneurial Networking Program, in partnership with LANL’s Los Alamos Connect, served 130 regional businesses in 2012, creating 29 new jobs and retaining 14 more.
REDI partnered with LANL to provide initial funding to several local technology businesses.
REDI facilitated the creation of a Certified Economic Development Community.
Los Alamos County’s role in establishing REDI did not go unnoticed.
“Thanks go to Los Alamos County, who founded the Regional Economic Development Initiative and asked the rest of the region to join them in economic development planning and continues to support it to this day,” Keith said.
The Los Alamos Monitor reached Los Alamos County Council Chair Geoff Rodgers after the conference for his thoughts on REDI.
“The north central region of New Mexico is showing that we can work together on projects that span communities, jurisdictions, and even cultures. REDI is one example among efforts like pioneering the regional transit district and speaking with one voice on environmental clean-up,” Rodgers said.
“The improved working relationships across the region are one of the accomplishments of REDI. Another would have to be REDINet. Transportation and connectivity will drive economic development. I feel strongly that the county is realizing a return on its investment. If Los Alamos is to expand our economic base, we will have to do it as part of the region and not in a vacuum. REDI helps us do that.”
The conference included breakout sessions for regional leaders to brainstorm on how to move forward with cluster industries such as technology and value-added agriculture, workforce development, critical infrastructure and business services.
Developing water resources was a major theme from those sessions, as well as more networking about resources and specifics such as streamlining local regulations for the film industry into a uniform guideline for every regional entity.
REDI will work closely with its members to develop those ideas and fold them into the next five-year plan.
Those wishing to contribute ideas may contact Vasquez at email@example.com. Suggestions are being accepted through the end of August.