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County Commission Gets Economic Update


April 20, 2018

With only three agenda items, the April 3, 2018 San Juan County Commission Meeting lasted---possibly a record, low 34 minutes---but was packed with information from Warren Unsicker, CEO of Four Corners Economic Development. Following the Call to Order, Invocation, Pledge of Allegiance, a report from Liza Gomez with the Indigent Hospital Claims Board to 'review claims' and the 'approval of minutes' from March 6, the regular meeting began.

Unsicker, now on the job for about a year and a half, speed-talked a report that outlined numerous topics and the efforts of his group to "grow and create vibrancy" in the regional economy. He pointed to areas of growth like "Pesco hiring left and right", Raytheon opening a new warehouse and his belief that they're expanding, as well. But he said, "We've seen a lot of acquisitions (oil/gas), so that's a little concerning". His considerable travels include various trade shows and conferences, including the 'Outdoor Outfitters Conference', in an effort to bring more recreational product manufacturers, like Jack's Plastic Welding (raft makers) of Aztec, to the region.

He mentioned attending a 'Data Center World Conference' and efforts to connect with Chinese investors through the Foreign Direct Investment program and the importance of 'Incentive Programs' at the state level because, "It's a national stage that we're playing on---and most companies ask for an incentive when they're asked to locate in an area". He said, "PNM still looms over us as potential closure...so we're looking at how best to operate it beyond 2022. We will continue to fight that fight." Their efforts include 'Business Retention Expansion' to "grow and add jobs" and 'job training incentive programs', directed at the state capital.

'Agriculture', specifically NAPI with its 72,000 acres, was referenced by Unsicker. "We're looking at value-added processes---how do we take raw products we have and create new jobs and manufacturing?". Regarding 'Education', he said, "We're very fortunate to have a college here that is very nimble in curriculum development". 'Energy', he said, "We call our life-blood around here, but it oscillates up and down...and the workforce requirements decrease because of technological innovations". They, 4CED, look at the factor of 'Health Care', and promoting this region as "A destination for retirement and transitional-care community to create a static income" base, pointing to our "excellent climate and four seasons". 'Location-Neutral' or home-based businesses are another area they want to attract. 'Adventure Travel and Tourism' is a "$6 billion consumer spending market, but we haven't capitalized on this section nearly enough", he said---then alluded to the 'New Mexico True Campaign'.

'Downtown Revitalization' of both Aztec and Farmington will help "Attract new businesses and likewise keep our workforce", the CEO asserted. Of 'Rail Service' to this region, he said, "We're in the midst of doing a railroad demand study to determine if there's enough product going in and out of our community to attract a short-haul rail provider---to invest the $200 million plus---it would take". 4CED is hopeful they can "Tap into the funding for the Federal Infrastructure-Rebuilding Program", he said. The effort to attract new commercial 'Airline' providers is partially-based on the appeal of 120 acres of potential industrial park area at the Farmington Airport. 'Regionalism' is "ongoing initiative" for 4CED and a Federal Forum is planned later in 2018---with a goal of gaining more "political clout", Unsicker stated.

Commissioner Beckstead asked Unsicker to clarify the 'Solar Issue' and where his group stands. He said federal tariffs have driven up the cost of foreign PV panels by 60 percent, causing the City of Farmington "to rethink their efforts", for a proposed 1.1megawatt solar project. "US firms are scrambling to figure out their next step", he said. Beckstead asked, "Are we going to look into it further?", regarding the development of local solar industries. Unsicker said "Yes, New Mexico is well-poised to establish clusters around the solar issue".

Mike Mestas, San Juan County Emergency Manager, presented his department's request for the 'Annual 2018 Emergency Management Performance Grant, Funding Opportunity, Application and Work Plan'. He stated that "New Mexico Homeland Security capped the salaries for he and his Coordinator at $80 thousand" and that the City of Farmington contributes $25K; Aztec and Bloomfield $5K each, which are used toward salaries. County CEO Kirk Carpenter asked Mestas to discuss the '222 Funding/Fire Excise Tax' his department receives from San Juan County. He said it was used for "everyday operating" expenses. Commissioner Crowley asked Mestas if "we have adopted the FEMA Strategic Plan?" Mestas confirmed they have and said, "it's a classified plan, but it is available for you to view if you need to". He also briefed the board on the 'Disaster Relief Fund', which amounts to $250K from the State of New Mexico when a disaster has been declared. In the past it's been used for irrigation ditch repair projects. The board unanimously approved the measure.

Diana Chapman, County Procurement Manager, presented a request for 'Consideration of Award of Bid 17-18-11 for Renovations' for the Flora Vista Fire Station. It was awarded to low-bidder, Winters Construction of Farmington for $121, 952.26. The Commission approved in full.

Public Works Administrator, Fran Fillerup, reported that "San Juan County Dumpster Day, March 24th. San Juan County paid for County residents to dispose of trash free of charge at the 12 transfer stations throughout the County, plus at the Landfill. It served 1528 vehicles, collected and disposed of 136 tons of waste, including 505 tires. The total cost to the County for the event was $6,347."

 County Fire Chief, Craig Daugherty reported, "As you know the weather is very warm and dry for this time of year...all projections are for a warmer than normal pattern through July. He said, "burn-bans and discussions about fireworks are likely and we'll probably have to take some action to prevent escape fires".

Commissioner Fortner was not in attendance. With nothing to report from CEO Carpenter, no 'Input from the General Public' and no 'Closed Executive Session', the meeting adjourned.


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