It Takes a Region

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

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There is a tremendous amount of work happening in economic development focused on local strategies built entirely on our assets. But it’s time to supercharge these efforts by marketing and competing more effectively through cooperation. For decades, our region has been known and home to global companies because of our resources and innovation in producing energy that powered the American West. But with the collapse of coal markets and political winds focused toward a zero-carbon economy, we are needing to reframe our regional value proposition and attraction strategy. We need to provide focused asset and data-supported marketing to put our region on the radar screens of growth industries suitable for the high desert. We need to marry this with community development efforts aimed at making our communities attractive places with modern infrastructure and superb quality of life to grow enterprise and retain talented people where they are rooted. And most importantly, we need to do this as a region united because we are louder with one voice and more effective when we stand together.

Three-point strategy:

1. Bigger is Better. In a global economy, we are less competing with our neighbors for jobs and much more needing to define and differentiate our region’s competitive advantage to the world. Almost weekly we read headlines that multiple jurisdictions have joined together in partnership for some big initiative to gain Federal attention and resources. On February 23, 2022, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a memorandum of understanding with Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming to develop a regional clean hydrogen hub. Our region needs to double down on its work to form a Stronger Together Partnership and from the Build Back Better Regional Challenge to unite the Four Corners communities including tribal, public, and private leaders.

2. Great Teams Win Titles. Our region needs a teams approach focused on financing our infrastructure priorities and advancing our factors of production. These need to be multi-sector and coordinated teams facilitated around four points: Traditional Infrastructure, Transformative Projects, Housing, and Social Equity. These need to be rapidly assembled to convert on the current once-in-a-generation funding opportunities.

3. A New Vehicle for a New Paradigm. Development of a new regional development corporation that can provide a broader toolkit for economic development and supersize the individual work at the local and tribal levels. Visualize a United Way for economic development - this non-profit, private-sector driven organization would attract private sector support and investments from foundations to focus on:

  • Creating economies of scale and investing in capacity, resources, and attraction, and marketing activities for all economic development organizations in coordination.
  • Providing non-political and non-partisan leadership for risk-taking to move on collaborative private-public-tribal projects and larger special initiatives as well as a focus on social equity and on developing value chains that provide communities wealth that sticks.
  • It’s time to play Moneyball and change the game through unity of purpose. Otherwise, we are just working really hard to scratch the surface and compete for scraps instead of moving our economy from boom-bust to robust and investing strategically to grow our future together.

Access to capital and slow money business support that grows a portfolio of economic development financing products into a Community Development Finance Institution (Slow money is a lending movement. See https://slowmoney.org/).

Evan Williams, Executive Director
Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments

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