Local Voices: ‘Think regionally, act locally’ mantra for Four Corners’ economic future

Four Corners Regional Economic Consortium
Special to the Daily Times
Guest Editorial

The country’s energy future is changing. There is a lot of debate about why and how fast that change will happen. What’s certain is that economies dependent on traditional fossil fuel energy sources like coal, oil and natural gas need to take a long view of how they can diversify to survive — and thrive — through and beyond the evolving energy landscape.

This is not news to Farmington, the energy epicenter of the Four Corners region. For more than two years, hundreds of leaders from throughout the region have been working to answer the difficult question: “How do we diversify Four Corners’ regional economy to survive the energy shift?”

The answer has become apparent through collaborative workshops, surveys and third-party assessments, and it is both humbling and, ironically, energizing: the region must work together to survive. There’s not just one pathway to diversifying the region’s economy, and no single entity can make a lasting difference on its own. All communities and stakeholders in the area must unite to ensure Four Corners continues to be a great place to live and raise a family, while also attracting new industries and jobs. 

In February 2017, Highland Economics completed an economic assessment under the region’s POWER initiative that looked beyond the lifespan of the coal-fired power plants in the region. Our group established the Four Corners Regional Economic Consortium to tackle the issues and opportunities presented in the report. The Consortium includes representatives from San Juan College, Four Corners Economic Development, Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments and the APS Four Corners Power Plant. We began working together to plan how to engage the community at-large in finding long-term solutions.

One of our early milestones was organizing the first 4 Corners Future Forum in November 2017, which later received the International Economic Development Council’s Silver Award for Cross-Border Collaboration. With the goal of bringing community leaders together in open dialogue, the event attracted more than 140 economic developers, civic leaders, tribal council representatives and concerned citizens to discuss next steps to meet the challenges ahead.

The group followed up on this inaugural Forum by consulting with Minnesota’s Region Five Development Commission, which is successfully working to reverse that region’s economic decline – from a low point of 22 percent unemployment – after the recession resulted in the loss of manufacturing and energy-related jobs.  Our Consortium also completed a strategy session among local economic developers, held more than a dozen group meetings to refine strategies and methods, compiled results from region-wide surveys and organized its second 4 Corners Future Forum,  held on November 1, 2018.

At this second forum, working groups discussed the six previously identified economic drivers of Quality Healthcare, Local Food Systems, Four Corners Marketing, Qualified Workforce, Connectivity & Technology Infrastructure and Regional Transportation.

While each of these economic drivers is important, in the Forum we voted and narrowed the focus to two objectives: (1) Connectivity and Technology Infrastructure and (2) Four Corners Marketing. This way, we focus our efforts and resources on clear actions to ensure we make meaningful progress versus spreading ourselves too far and wide early in the process. The group plans to begin by mapping out existing and most critically needed community infrastructure and physical assets necessary to attract new industries and accommodate growth. 

Moving forward under the Forum motto of “Think regionally, act locally; Think locally, act regionally," the group will work together on these two priorities for most of 2019 before evaluating progress and next steps at the third 4 Corners Future Forum later in the year.

We have a long, hard road ahead of us, but it’s important that we take ownership of our region’s future. It has to be designed, developed and nurtured into a self-sustaining economy that’s not overly dependent on any single industry or resource. The Consortium members and stakeholders at our two forums to date recognize this, and are up for the task. We realize many more of you, our fellow citizens of the Four Corners, are too – in fact, we’re counting on it.

We encourage those who want to help design a healthy economic future for the region to learn more by visiting the Four Corners Regional Economic Consortium online at www.4cornersconsortium.com.

The Four Corners Regional Economic Consortium’s steering committee includes: Jeff Kiely, Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments; Warren Unsicker, City of Farmington; Melissa Meechan and Dr. Lorenzo Reye, San Juan College; Devin Scott, Four Corners Economic Development; Arvin Trujillo, Joanne Bryant and Suzy Baldwin, APS Four Corners Power Plant.