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LEADERSHIP SEES ECONOMY IN TRANSITIONAL CHANGE

REGIONAL ECONOMIC FORUM

 

March 16, 2018



Last November the 4 Corners Economic Development agency (4CED) held a Future Forum at San Juan College. Will the froum help shape the local economy going forward? 4CED leaders are determined to find out. A recent press conference at San Juan College Quality Center for Business reported on the forum, who's theme was: 'Thinking Regionally-Acting Locally'.

4CED Chief Executive Officer Warren Unsicker, opened the conference with an overview of the Forum saying, "We have more in common than differences; we have a lot of common resources". He touted the region as a major international attraction for tourism with its natural beauty and historical sites. Opportunities for rail and new flights were also discussed at the event attended by 140 business and civic leaders who paid $150 each.

Executive Director of Northwest NM Council of Governments Jeff Kiely said, the effort was "to aggregate these communities...to create a stronger voice for the Four Corners". Kiely stressed the value of "Unity in diversity, not unity in conformity and not trying to create a top-down but a ground-up regionalism". "The private sector will keep looking for opportunity; the public sector is going to keep scrambling to find out how to best support the private sector", he said.

Gallup resident, Kiely revealed some "historical background and insight" regarding the efforts of those working for economic development solutions.

The forum, according to Kiely, didn't produce "consensus", but there was an agreement not to act "precipitiously" in abandoning traditional economic drivers (energy industry)---"understanding that we have a diverse energy mix". "At the same time, there are trends afoot in the marketplace that suggest that we need to accelerate our efforts to diversify". Alluding to alternative energy technologies. "We did grapple with the whole issue of what is the energy future of the Four Corners", he said.

"Agriculture across the region is very spotty, even though historically, it has been very strong", said Kiely, as he spoke about the strength of operations like NAPI and farming production in Southern Colorado. "There's a movement afoot to start feeding ourselves...instead of depending on global trade." He spoke of other Forum groups that discussed specific economic resources including: 'Health Care and how to grow that industry; the 'Creative Economy', meaning "the arts and their role, not just as a colorful tapestry, but as an economic driver", he said. Manufacturing has been "linked to the energy industry traditionally" here, but "now we're talking about other manufacturing---as a financial resource base".

On the issue of 'Tourism' here, Keily referred to it as "a common pull for the world, with about 25,000 square miles...yet, we're not taking advantage of it like we could", he said. Regarding 'Education', he said there has been positive response from regional colleges, including San Juan College, Fort Lewis College, Dine College and Northern Arizona University. "We're committed to not letting this stay on our shelves", he said, as he held up the Forum Report.

Melissa Meechan, representing San Juan College, described the recent trip to Minnesota that she, Unsicker, Arvin Trujillo and JoAnne Bryant of Arizona Public Service, took to the Little Falls region to study the processes of the Region Five Economic Development Commission. As mandated, they have taken key steps to unify diverse cultures and constituencies, to formulate positive economic initiatives across county and regional lines. "They are mandated, but we're doing it because we know it's best to work regionally." They have a 'Sprout Project', specifically designed to grow entrepreneurship and a vibrant 'Makers Market'. "We learned very quickly that we need more input", she said. "We're at the 'idea generation level; we're heading to the 'idea implementation level."

Arvin Trujillo, Manager of Government Relations for the Four Corners Power Plant, as the closing speaker, said "We've depended on the oil/gas industry for decades, but economics have changed---from a business and politcal standpoint". Going into this "we had a plan but we realized we had to change". He, too, stressed the need for more 'input' from all around the region. The plan to establish two tracks to attract this 'input'. One track will go to the region's leaders, including the Tribes, and ask, "Who are those important individuals that we need to bring in?". They will try to discover: "What's important to the public? Their priorities, their concerns and expectations. What should leadership do?", Trujillo asked.

The second track will utilize about 70 attendees, "Who expressed a desire to be actively involved as leaders of interdisiplinary teams. We will continue to compete (from within the region), but why not compete with the rest of the U.S., as a collective group?", he suggested. He said their goal is to have more information on this front by June. Another Forum is scheduled for November, with the focus on gaining State and Federal support for projects to be proposed.

"I would love to turn the TV on and suddenly you see---'The Four Corners'---on national television...saying, 'Come enjoy...bring your business here, we have much to offer'---that's what we're looking for." That's whats needed because "We're in a time of transitional change!", said Trujillo.

 

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