Together Let’s Fast Forward to Better
11 May 2021
Evan Williams, Executive Director Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments
The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined and exacerbated the cracks in our systems, economy, and social fabric. If something was eroding, it was torn down; if something was under the surface, it got exposed; if certain markets or businesses were declining, they closed; and while workers that use technology continued, those in touch industries were sidelined. This crisis reminded us all that we are related and connected – the virus did not discriminate, nor did it abide to jurisdictional boundaries and lines on a map.
As the economic development district for the region, we look to add capacity and value at the macro-level by setting and implementing the global strategy. Last year, the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments (COG) laid out a seven-point strategy in an article entitled, “Plan Today for Recovery Tomorrow”, and we will benchmark our accomplishments against those same goals to showcase our organization’s commitment to not just talking about it but being about it.
Tactics and outcomes that highlight getting things done that make a difference in our region:
- Working every day on planning, developing, and financing needed infrastructure projects, including transportation and broadband crucial to our economic competitiveness as a region. This work continues every day with large projects in the pipeline targeted for new State and Federal funding. Over the last 9 months, COG attracted over $10M for projects in the region representing an 11-to-1 return on investment for our members and region.
- Working with the US Economic Development Administration to target $988,400 in creating shovel-ready industrial sites in our region through their Assistance to Coal Communities program. COG and its partners have developed two spec-building designs, one shovel-ready site, and two sites ready for final design. A good example is the Prewitt Industrial Park, which was awarded an Impact Award by the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) in 2020.
- Helping Local Government Division set up a Small Business Assistance Program using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. COG continues to support the roll-out of recovery programs throughout the State and our region. COG helped the City secure $1 million for the West Logan Avenue project through a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) – the largest award in program history in New Mexico.
- Continuation of a regional Brownfields program aimed to invest $500,000 to restore environmental concerns and flip properties and building from non-productive sties to community catalysts. 90% of program funding has been deployed including investments on two sites in Milan, four sites in McKinley County, and two sites in Bloomfield.
- Nomination for National designation of the Trail of the Ancients byway as a tourism tool to drive visitation to and around our region once restrictions are lifted. The Trail of the Ancients Byway received national designation and we launched the reboot of the Four Corners Geotourism website.
- Producing a series of Community Prospectuses for each county to drive Opportunity Zone investments into our region. Opportunity Zone brochures were produced and are actively being used to attract investment and potential deals in our region.
- Approving and updating our Revolving Loan Program to help new business start-ups and entrepreneurs after CARES Act funding is exhausted but access to capital remains an issue.
COG attracted another $990,000, which is set to relaunch this program to increase access to capital throughout the region in the Summer. The COG also completed several planning processes including creation of a Regional Recovery Plan, Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, Regional Transportation Plan, McKinley County Comprehensive Plan, and the Zuni Mountains Trails & Conservation Master Plan. I am most proud of my team as they stepped out and stretched further to meet the challenges and opportunities to assist our communities in making their visions a reality. They did not wait for plans to be completed but planned and produced in real time. We invite you to our YouTube channel where we are putting out weekly pressers on our work and its impact.
We want to also recognize our members and officials of the City of Gallup and McKinley County for all they did during the pandemic on the frontlines of the crisis, and encourage us all to continue to build on recent successes as one community unified in the common good including:
- Getting Gallup from shutdown to ‘turquoise’,
- Spending efficiently and effectively all CARES Act COVID-19 funding,
- Leading on bringing the Gallup Commons community together on recovery, economic transformation, and resiliency, and
- Passage of Impact Aid legislation to provide education equity and generational change.
The next 30 days could change the Gallup Commons and the region for the next 30 years. It is crucial to work together and focus on healthcare, strategic infrastructure, and economic development investments for our region through a tribal-public-private partnership that includes a better tomorrow for us all.
We don’t want to see our region just return to normal, we want to fast forward to better. We are stronger together and louder when we speak with one voice – let’s make sure they can hear us from the Roundhouse to the halls of Congress.