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Region aims for progress through partnering

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By Katy Korkos

A formal kickoff for the next stage of Los Alamos County’s regional development initiative was held Thursday in the history-filled El Convento in Española. The event was attended by officials from the city and county of Santa Fe, the city and county of Taos, the city of Española and county of Rio Arriba and from Los Alamos County, all of whom gathered to show their support for the new project.Los Alamos County Council approved a contract for $250,000 with the Regional Development Corporation (RDC) Nov. 6, to serve as part of the county’s “Progress through Partnering” initiative. The contract authorized the RDC, headed by Ed Burckle, to create an economic development plan for northern New Mexico.“We have a common fate,” County Administrator Max Baker said. “This started over two years ago with our county council. Part of the vision of the council was to reach out to our regional partners. This will give us a strategic plan to guide us for the next 20 years. It will contain do-able projects that we will implement.” Baker said that the plan would be an important first step toward better communication and cooperation in the region.“When future leaders get together 20 years from now, they can say it was right here that it started,” Baker said.Española’s El Convento, a replica of the original Spanish mission in the heart of town, played host to the diverse group in the audience, which also included delegates from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Congressman Udall’s office.“This is a very significant event for the whole region,” Española Mayor Joseph Maestas said. “We all share a vision for a diversified economy for the region.”Councilor Robert Gibson told the assembled group that the money was only a part of the nearly $2 million Los Alamos was committing to regional development in the current year, and added that the contract was not solely for planning but also for implementation. The county has also promised an additional $1 million per year for each of the next five years.Burckle said that the project was already well underway. “We’ve met with over 40 stakeholders,” Burckle said. His company will conduct 30 or more additional interviews in trying to develop a consensus of what projects will have the best chance of success in northern New Mexico. “We’re already seeing some common issues (from interviews),” Burckle said. “Renewable and sustainable energy, water and wastewater issues, and the workforce of the future are the common things we’re already seeing.”Burckle said that he intends to have an 80 percent design of the development plan ready by the beginning of summer. He assured the assembled group that the plan would “not just be another plan, but will have do-able projects.”“We have an exceptional record of do-able projects,” Bhe said, citing the North Central Regional Transit District and broadband Internet connections for Rio Arriba County and Chama as successes that had their origins in his company’s plans.Monica Abeita, who serves as RDC program manager for the regional economic development initiative, said the stakeholders include the regional tribes, chambers of commerce, the health care and education segments and many other groups. She added she expects to draft a report by early February, and take the draft report back to the stakeholders for feedback after that. “We envision this not to look like a list of capital improvement projects,” Abeita said. She said she hopes the plan would build on existing projects and “create more synergies. We have the momentum in place.”