AZTEC — The Economic Development Advisory Board met Thursday to discuss ways to improve the Aztec economy by continuing "buy-local" efforts and finding more ways to open lines of communication between business owners and the city.

The nine-person group consists of business owners, a representative of the Four Corners Economic Development group, a city commissioner, the city manager, a bank manager, the director of the chamber of commerce, and a city staff representative.

"Our board's diversity is our strength," said John Faverino, the board's chairman and construction company owner. "Through our different perspectives we try to find ways to help our existing businesses prosper and assist bringing in new ones where we can."

The group's first meeting of the year centered on extending and expanding the city's buy-local campaign. A pilot program produced promotional videos featuring City Manager Josh Ray interviewing 12 business owners in the days leading up to Christmas.

Faverino said the meetings are an opportunity for business leaders to provide input and ideas.

The board also has planned a series of "visioning" forums to gain a longer range perspective on economic development with members sharing personal insights and forecasts on the city's future.

That's one idea Dale Anderson of Aztec Media believes will help steer the community.

"We certainly need leadership that asks central questions like, What do I want my community to look like?' and What do I want it to be?'" Anderson said.


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"There's a battle between urban and rural, and I don't have to tell you who's losing. We need to be part of the broader economic engine to survive."

Ultimately, Anderson said success will require a collective effort.

"Everybody wants the city to have all the answers, but they've also got to come from the community," he said.

Cheryl Larabee moved to Aztec in 1994 and has raised a family and overseen four housing, mortgage and construction businesses from her offices on Chaco Street, which opened in 1999. She credits her success to being "results-oriented" and treating everyone with whom she works like family.

"It's not uncommon to walk past our offices and see a bassinet in the window," Larabee said. "We are a family that way."

Larabee would like to see more familial engagement in Aztec between businesses and city government. Despite her nearly two decades in the community, she said the city has never asked her what she thought.

"I want to know their vision for the city, what's being done, and if it's tangible," she said.

Mixed-use properties that allow people to live within walking distance of local downtown businesses is one idea she would like to see implemented.

Community Development Director Roshana Moojen's priority list includes supporting businesses and increasing communication among city staff, citizens and businesses.

"We continue to support local businesses with plans for buy local' signage, (to) improve our outreach to citizens with an active Facebook page, (to) find ways to optimize the permit process, and (to) keep up that steady reminder of our shared assets with grass-roots efforts," Moojen said.

Moojen would like to see dramatic changes in the way the city encourages business creation, but a state statute, the Local Economic Development Act, limits what municipalities can do to provide business incentives.

Mayor Sally Burbridge, who chairs the Four Corners Economic Development group, wants to help the community have a stronger shared understanding of what direction Aztec will go in the coming years. But getting everyone together for an open dialogue has not been easy.

"We've tried the book-the-town-hall' model and announced an open meeting to exhange ideas," Burbridge said. "And unfortunately, for one reason or another, people tend not to show up."

The mayor wants the final year of her term to center on a strategic "vision plan" by traveling around to various groups to hear their ideas and aspirations for the city.

"We will go to a broad range of groups - high schools, the VFW, Aztec Trails and Open Space and others - to inform them of the city's plans and solicit input on what our city ought to look like going forward," she said.

Burbridge is most proud of installing a pedestrian bridge that connected Riverside and Hartman parks. The bridge instantly increased the city's walkability' and built community engagement and pride, she said.

She also said the arterial route project that would lessen the heavy traffic off of Main Street is "the most shovel-ready project" for the year thanks to completion of all the necessary studies and designs. The project only needs funding to see it through.

"The project will open up hundreds of acres for economic development," she said. "It is going to take projects big and small and a lot of shared ideas."

Tweety Blancett, owner of the Step Back Inn, likes the improved climate between city government and businesses.

"We have incredible resources and assets here in Aztec," said Blancett, who has run her inn for 18 years. "Making progress is simple: we need to capitalize on what we have, make the business community totally involved, and not rely on the oil-and-gas industry to be the only foundation for the economy."

The Board holds its open meetings the third Thursday of each month at 8 a.m. at City Hall. Residents and business owners are encouraged to attend.