FARMINGTON – When Arvin Trujillo thinks about his kids, it focuses his mind on creating a regional economic alliance across the Four Corners, including tribal entities, to boost prosperity for all.
“I’m passionate about this because I grew up here. I’m from here,” said Trujillo, manager of government relations for Arizona Public Service Co. “I want my children to live here. But you know what? I have one child living in Portland, Oregon, working for Nike. I have one child living in Denver, working for a software firm. I have one child who is getting ready to leave for Baltimore to work for John Hopkins.”
Trujillo joined several other economic development officials at a news conference Monday at San Juan College in Farmington to release a report on efforts to establish a Four Corners regional economic alliance.
More than 140 people from Southwest Colorado, Northwest New Mexico, Southeast Utah and Northeast Arizona, including several tribal officials, participated in The Future Forum held in November 2017 to kick off efforts to create an economic alliance, and 70 of those participants will go forward with work to develop the organization.
Meetings are planned for economic development leaders in each of the quadrants of the four states in the next two months to develop public forums. At the public forums, economic development officials and business leaders will reach out to residents, asking them to provide their input on economic issues important to them.
Meetings in the four states and on tribal reservations seeking input from residents will be scheduled for April and May.
Laura Lewis Marchino, executive director of Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, and Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance, will participate in organizing efforts in coming months.
“The goal of the road shows in all the states and the tribal regions is to find out from the public what they want in economic development in the region. We want to know what their concerns are, what their needs are, what their expectations are,” Trujillo said.
Melissa Meechan, Four Corners POWER Initiative director with the office of the president for San Juan College, said the need to reach beyond economic officials and business leaders was brought home when a core group of organizers traveled to central Minnesota to visit a successful regional economic alliance.
“We realized we were going to need more community input,” she said. The group had planned to reach out to community leaders in government, business and economic development before they visited the Region Five Development Commission in central Minnesota.
“They were asking the single mothers: What keeps you up at night? When the next economic decline hits, what’s going to keep you in the region? If you don’t have buy-in from people in your region, you’re not going to be successful and you’re not going to stick around,” Meechan said of economic development efforts.
The central Minnesota economic alliance, used as a model for the fledgling Four Corners group, was able to bring in $50 million in new investments through its cooperative economic alliance since its creation a decade ago, said Jefferey Kiely, executive director of the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments.
The visit to Minnesota, he said, provided an example of how an economic development agency was able to better meet the needs of residents in the region, understanding their skills, their needs for educational opportunities and their mental and physical health needs.
Additionally, the visit showed how cooperative efforts leveraged existing cultural, social, intellectual, political, financial and natural resources to create more successful economic development efforts than any single region could muster alone.
Warren Unsicker, CEO of Four Corners Economic Development, the economic development alliance for northwest New Mexico, said regional cooperation will open new opportunities for everyone, and building trust among people who are more familiar with competing against each other rather than cooperating would be key.
“Why regionalism?” he asked. “Without regional cooperation, we’re missing out, and we’re leaving things on the table if we don’t look at our co-opportunities that will come from cooperation.”
He mentioned leveraging regional efforts in infrastructure – such as broadband development, tourism and agriculture – as areas that might benefit from regional cooperative efforts.
Kiely also touted the power leveraged by cooperation.
“What if we had eight senators in Congress going to bat for ideas we came together on in this region?” he asked.
Workforce development, Kiely said, is emerging as the key economic development attribute that lures new businesses and even industries to a region.
He said a regional economic alliance might be able to harness cooperative efforts by Fort Lewis College, San Juan College, Diné College, Navajo Technical College and Northern Arizona University to build the skillset of the region’s workforce.