ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT - A COMMUNITY EFFORT

 

November 3, 2017

Warren Unsicker, Director of Four Corners Economic Development

Economic development requires a total community effort. Warren Unsicker, Four Corners Economic Development, who's been on the job for about nine months, said, "We are looking for ways to attract businesses that are insulated from future boom and bust. We know the energy industry is a stalwart here - we're not moving away from it - but we know we have to find ways to grow our economy."

Unsicker believes the primary cause of unemployment in San Juan County is the inevitable ebb and flow of the energy industry. Likewise, the uncertainty that comes with that industry can lead some to wait out the bad times instead of pursuing new career paths.

Four Corners Economic Development encompasses two non-profit organizations. One is the 501(c)(6) membership based organization, Four Corners Economic Development, Inc. The other is the Four Corners Economic Development Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization. As a private non-profit, it is funded by the local governmental entities and private donations. Unsicker stated, "Our primary goal is to bolster the economy of San Juan County, to diversify the economy and to bring in new businesses from outside the area." Beyond working with local Chambers of Commerce, clubs and business people, they reach out to partner with regional and national affiliations.


"By offering 'ACT WorkKeys Assessments' we can measure the skills of talented employees in the area," Unsicker said. His agency attempts to enhance the workforce. "If more people and employers would take advantage of this valuable, FREE resource, we would be better able to place and keep people employed. Likewise, they would know key areas they can work on to better their chances of landing a quality job." He added, "The entrepreneurial resources (for existing businesses and startups) that are housed at the Quality Center for Business and the Aztec HUB Incubator are invaluable to help create new jobs and businesses for the region. We have some truly talented folks here in the Four Corners, but they may not be realizing their full potential. They may have the ability to not only start their own business, but employ numerous people in the community." Likewise, businesses that may be struggling are missing out on valuable courses and classes that can provide them useful skills for running their business.

Regarding the desire or not, to work in meaningful jobs, he said, "I don't think it has as much to do with not caring, as it does with the history of cyclical employment at high wages that often leaves people pondering the "opportunity cost" of pursuing a new career. And he believes governmental and non-profit groups are working diligently to change the faces of their communities, revitalizing downtowns, and other quality of place factors. He added, "Likewise, non-profits like ours are continually telling our community's stories on a national scale, trying to attract new businesses and activity to our area."


The key to improving business models, he said, is to diversify. "While we often focus on the employment base via recruitment of new businesses, we need existing businesses to look at how they can diversify product lines to remain viable during down times in energy. It will enable them to keep people on even during slow times of energy, and likewise may enable them to expand significantly."

This is a key factor that will help stabilize our economy long term. Businesses fail, he asserts, "Because many startups don't plan for slow times, or the ramp-up period it takes to own their own business. It can take a year or more to build a customer base, hire the right staff, and just get the kinks worked out. That is where utilizing the business services like those here at the QCB or the HUB can be invaluable to creating resilient and enduring businesses."

Regarding local agriculture and food-growing potential, Warren stated, "I believe agriculture is one of our underutilized assets that we need to continue to market abroad. While NAPI is doing some amazing things in agriculture on the over 72,000 acres they currently manage, we have plenty of room to expand our efforts. Many people outside New Mexico don't understand the assets we have in the way of water and land that can be utilized for such businesses. Likewise, we need to attract more value added agricultural businesses that are processing the food we produce. Since we are a fair distance from many larger markets, but able to produce finished product as opposed to shipping raw materials could be a huge asset."


Mr. Unsicker recently attended an Outdoor Retailer Conference in Salt Lake City and will be working to attract people that actually make the product - similar to what Jack's Plastic Welding in Aztec does."

Looking in a new direction, or rather, a return to an earlier era, local leaders are assessing the demand and viability of a rail system tying San Juan County, possibly between Gallup and Grants, to the Amtrak line.

"In the end though, it is everyone's job to build into our community. We can't do it without the support and involvement of community leaders and citizens willing to create vibrancy in the place they call home," Unsicker maintains.

 

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