Speaker highlights efforts to diversify economy

Joshua Kellogg

FARMINGTON — The keynote speaker at the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments’ annual luncheon highlighted the work being done to diversify the economy in the Four Corners region and to educate workers transitioning out of the oil and gas industry.

Rick Sebenoler of the Economic Development Administration talks about economic diversification efforts in the Four Corners during the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments' annual luncheon on Wednesday at the San Juan College School of Energy in Farmington.

Rick Sebenoler, a Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) program officer and regional integrator for the Economic Development Administration, was the keynote speaker for the luncheon at the School of Energy building at San Juan College today. The Economic Development Administration operates under the auspices of the U.S Department of Commerce.

“The days of rigs jumping all over the place, high-dollar salaries out there, this is not going to come back anywhere near the scale it used to be,” Sebenoler said about the regional energy industry.

Sebenoler played a major role in helping San Juan College and COG receive federal POWER grants to help workers in the coal industry transition to new jobs, COG Director Jeff Keily said. San Juan College received a $1.4 million grant, and COG was awarded about $327,000.

Keily said the organization had Sebenoler give a presentation about the federal POWER initiative to showcase the work San Juan College and the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments have been doing for work force and economic development.

San Juan College President Toni Hopper Pendergrass speaks during the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments' annual luncheon on Wednesday at the School of Energy on the SJC campus.

“We think this is just the beginning of a broad, regional (collaboration) that can get bigger than it is now,” Keily said.

COG has hired the consulting firm Highland Economics to analyze the economic impact of the decline in coal production and usage on the Four Corners region as part of its grant.

Using that information, the organization plans to develop priorities and strategies to promote regional economic diversification, according to Sebenoler’s presentation. Keily said the group hopes to finish its report sometime this fall.

San Juan College has been using its grant to focus on work force revitalization and economic development, according to the college’s Four Corners POWER Initiative Director Melissa Meechan.

As part of the grant, the college is going to purchase new equipment for its instrument and controls program offered through the School of Energy. Meechan said the new equipment will help serve more students and diversify the education students receive, putting them in a position to apply to more job fields.

The college’s grant is also supporting the rapid re-training educational support program to help workers in the energy industry find jobs in areas that are actively hiring.

“We are training them in nonenergy fields so they can hopefully find a job,” Meechan said.

During Sebenoler’s speech, he said San Juan College is an extraordinary resource that works toward developing new curriculums to create job opportunities in the area, including a cyber-security program.

Sebenoler also stressed the importance of staging a Four Corners economic summit. He said the event should bring in federal officials and agencies to learn about the strategies that are being developed to diversify the economy in the Four Corners. He said it also would serve as an opportunity for local officials to seek resources to develop those strategies.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.