New head of Four Corners Economic Development says economic growth in the area might include expanding tourism base

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FARMINGTON — San Juan County's main economic development organization has a new leader.

Warren Unsicker took the reins as CEO of Four Corners Economic Development, or 4CED, three weeks ago.

Until Unsicker's arrival, Aztec Mayor Sally Burbridge and former Farmington Mayor Tom Taylor served as co-interim heads of the economic organization after the departure of former CEO Ray Hagerman in March.

Unsicker said he has spent the last few weeks meeting with local officials and businesses to get a comprehensive idea of the economic situation in the county and to begin collecting ideas for possible development. Unsicker said he's encouraged by the well-established collaborations that exist in San Juan County.

Last week, Unsicker sat down in his office at the San Juan College Enterprise Center to discuss his background, as well as his vision for improving the local economic situation.

"Building up collaboration and cooperation among the agencies can take years, so I want to give kudos to the communities here," he said. "Businesses that consider moving to an area look at the climate and the cooperation between agencies, and it's encouraging to see this collaboration is already here."

Unsicker, who was born and raised in Alaska, has a bachelor's degree in economics from Westmont College in Montecito, Calif., and is also a Certified Economic Developer, an accreditation he received from the International Economic Development Council.

Unsicker said he began working in the area of economic development in 2005 in Wabash County, Ind.

"That's where I first found my passion for economic development," he said. "I saw what an impact it could have in the community."

In 2008, Unsicker moved to Tulsa, Okla., and worked in an economic development group within the Tulsa Regional Chamber. During that time, Unsicker established a virtual business development center, bringing more than 70 resource partners together.

In 2011, Unsicker was tapped to serve as vice president of economic development for the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce in Broken Arrow, Okla., where he helped to establish a conference center and hotel in the downtown district. During the five years he worked in this capacity, he said, the city saw an exponential boom in the downtown core.

"I'm excited to see the focus Farmington has on developing its downtown area," he said. "You can really see the impact of developing downtown — it's a workforce tool. Downtown development really put (Broken Arrow) on the map," he said.

In addition to being interested in downtown development, Unsicker said he would like to help the community continue to build the existing oil and gas industry base, but would like to see the county examine other ways to expand business.

"We have petrochemicals in general here, and there are so many other opportunities to expand that with plastics or clothing (manufacture)," he said. "We also have NAPI and the possibility of expanding processed and branded foods that would provide opportunities to grow business, using what we already have."

Unsicker said other economic growth possibilities might include expanding the tourism base in the county.

"There are so many things in close proximity to our area that we could take advantage of," he said. "For the right type of person who wants to do that type of work, there are opportunities to use this as a home base for things like adventure travel."

For the time being, though, Unsicker — who moved here with wife Nicci and two small children — said economic development is a team sport, so he will continue to work with the 4CED board and with others in the community to piece together the economic picture and identify goals.

"I've spent a lot of time in oil and gas communities and I've missed the mountains, so this feels like coming home," he said. "I know there have been ups and downs with the economy here, but there's a lot of potential. I'm excited to be able to help bolster this already vibrant community and to help grow business."

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621. 

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