FARMINGTON – Two local political figures — Aztec Mayor Sally Burbridge and former Farmington Mayor Tom Taylor — are now leading the area's economic development organization.
Burbridge was named interim CEO and Taylor interim chief operating officer for Four Corners Economic Development after the departure last month of the organization's first chief executive, Ray Hagerman.
The board decided last month to name Burbridge and Taylor to the interim roles until a replacement is found for Hagerman, who led 4CED for three years before leaving on March 25.
Burbridge and Taylor, both 4CED board members, said they intend to continue the organization's efforts to maintain and expand local jobs and businesses in the area.
Burbridge, who runs a business consulting service, said that and her mayoral duties limit the amount of time she could commit to 4CED as executive officer. She just began her fifth two-year term as Aztec mayor. Having Taylor share the duties at 4CED, she said, will assure that efforts like the Real People Real Jobs campaign — rolled out last year to support local jobs in the oil and gas and coal industries — will continue.
"For Tom and I both, we have a lot of time and energy invested in the organization when we were creating Four Corners Economic Development," Burbridge said. "We don't want to see it step back, we don't want to see time lost and we want to see things continue to move forward in the interim."
Four Corners Economic Development was formed in 2012 out of its predecessor, the San Juan Economic Development Service, to help support business development in San Juan County and diversification of the local economy beyond the boom-and-bust nature of the oil-and-gas industry.
Taylor is a former state legislator and three-term mayor in Farmington. He said the success of the organization in its efforts to support local businesses and diversify the economy is dependent upon collective effort.
"I've been involved, in one way or another, in economic development for 30-plus years," he said. "Economic development is not a one-man show."
Hagerman's goal of recruiting new businesses to the area was largely offset by a greater need to help preserve existing jobs. While more than a thousand jobs in the oil and gas industry were lost in the last year with the fall of crude oil and the lingering slump of natural gas on the commodities market, keeping jobs intact at area power plants and coal mines has been the focus of the organization, Taylor said.
"The world changes day to day, and Ray's contribution was really valuable, although, from his point of view, he played more defense than offense," Taylor said of Hagerman's tenure with 4CED.
Burbridge said that 4CED is currently rethinking some of the objectives for the new CEO and taking a harder look at areas it wants to target, including manufacturing and health care. This month, 4CED's energy and manufacturing committee was split into two committees to allow for greater focus on each sector.
"(Beyond health care,) the aim is to provide a detailed focus on these two areas," Burbridge said. "Manufacturing is a true economic-base activity. You make a good product, you ship it out of the community and you bring that money back home. That's part of that diversification effort that we've been looking for."
4CED's petrochemicals committee is also looking at what other products can be made with the wealth of natural gas in the area, Burbridge said.
"Now is a time for us to redefine our strategy as an organization," she said. "It's time for us as an organization to re-examine that and make sure it is as fine tuned as we go forward."
James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.