Future Forum leaders say public input is vital to regional economic development, diversification
Public hearings on the topic will be scheduled in April and May
FARMINGTON — The Four Corners Regional Economic Consortium will look to the public at large as it continues to develop regional economic development plans over the coming months.
The consortium hosted a press conference Monday to release a report from the Four Corners Future Forum held in November in Farmington and to discuss long-term plans going forward.
“We’re going to continue this effort. This is not a one-and-done event,” Four Corners Economic Development CEO Warren Unsicker said. “The report that we’re putting out is just the beginning.”
Regional business and government leaders have been brainstorming ways to diversify the economy as global trends in the oil and gas industry change the Four Corners region's economic dynamics. A group of about 140 people met in November for the Future Forum, which Jeff Kiely — executive director for the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments — said “was not just … a showcase for talking heads,” but an event to understand and eventually capitalize on the region’s diversity.
“At first, we thought we’d have a big conference like this, and everybody would kind of hug and kiss at the end of it, and we’d have a detailed action path to move forward,” Kiely said. “We realized, especially after we got into it, that there’s so much diversity of opinion around things and so much that people wanted to talk about that coming to a consensus (immediately after the November forum) would have been untimely and probably unwise. … Everything that we were trying to do in this forum was about unity and diversity, not unity and conformity.”
Consortium leaders have been taking pages from the book of another regional economic development group that is based in central Minnesota. Melissa Meechan, director of the Four Corners Power Initiative at San Juan College, said she and other consortium members visited Minnesota in February.
“Really the biggest thing that I think we learned very quickly was that we needed more input,” Meechan said, adding that “we like to bring the business leaders together and the government together and all talk about it, but they asked the single moms. They asked the people that were on the ground living in those communities, ‘What keeps you up at night? … When a decline hits, why do you stay when other people are leaving?’ Because that really told them what’s needed. … The public is the biggest part of the community, so if you can’t have their buy-in and you don’t have their support, then this project’s not going to succeed.”
Arvin Trujillo, government relations manager for Arizona Public Service and Four Corners Power Plant, said the forum group will continue working with the people who attended the November forum and use them to canvass their communities and involve members of the public to create “more holistic” priorities as the project moves forward.
The group will start organizing regional committees tasked with gathering input from the public this month. Public hearings will be held in April and May, and stakeholders will meet again in June for a second forum in the hopes that Four Corners is on its way to becoming competitive “with the rest of the United States as a collective group," Trujillo said.
“We’re working towards that with the final stage of having that second forum so we can build a strategy for Four Corners region so, at the end of the day, we are no longer the best kept secret in the United States,” Trujillo said. “… We are in a time of transition and change. We have the opportunities to try to guard it, to fear everything about it, to just sit there and hope, or we have the opportunity to look at this and say, ‘Man, yeah there’s challenges, but there are tremendous opportunities for us to come together.’”
Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.