Area around mines, power plants focus of document

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FARMINGTON — A study by a Flagstaff, Ariz., group examines the possibilities of creating a viable economic future for the Navajo Nation in response to evolving energy markets.

Eunice Tso, owner and president of ETD Inc. in Flagstaff, said the study is the result of a collaborative effort and addresses goals and strategies to guide recommendations for implementation.

The study, which was shared during a meeting on Tuesday at San Juan College's School of Energy, focuses on a 50-mile radius around the Navajo Generating Station, the Kayenta Mine, the Navajo Mine and the Four Corners Power Plant.

Each area is impacted by changes in energy production, Tso said, adding that the study is one of many that focuses on the economic shift for the tribe.

The study was funded by a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration's Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization Initiative, and was administered by the Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development.

The federal grant is designed to help coal-dependent communities adapt to evolving energy markets, Tso said.

During the meeting, Tso and John Stigmon, president and CEO of the Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, presented eight economic development strategies outlined in the study.

Those strategies include enhancing tourism, expanding agriculture with modern water techniques, continuing to develop outlets for information technology, enhancing hospitality and expanding utility infrastructure.

"One of the things that we feel passionate about in our project is, we don't want plain cut-and-paste strategies," Tso said adding part of the focus is discovering ways to implement ideas.

Stigmon said one way the tribe could enhance tourism is by taking advantage of its location near multiple national parks. One of the study's recommendations touts highways as scenic byways.

Another way to build on that idea is to create mobile apps to attract tourists to locations on the Navajo Nation, as well as conducting workshops to help residents learn about hospitality opportunities, he said.

The collaboration also resulted in a list of strengths and weaknesses in regard to economic development on the reservation. The list of strengths includes the nation's rich cultural history and the potential to increase its agricultural industry, while the weaknesses included inadequate public safety and a lack of housing for workers.

Available housing needs to go hand in hand with economic development, Tso said.

There were several comments made by attendees throughout the meeting. Some people voiced concerns about the challenges faced by the nation's chapters when trying to navigate the tribal government system, while others cited the difficulty of obtaining funding for projects and maintaining a balance between tradition and the promotion of economic growth.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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