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Development plans promoted

Economic development expert Mark Lautman is meeting with residents on the subject of economic development in Sandoval County. An assessment he wrote for the county predicted a need to generate more than 10,000 new jobs by 2023. Health care is one promising area for new jobs, he says. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal)

Economic development expert Mark Lautman is meeting with residents on the subject of economic development in Sandoval County. An assessment he wrote for the county predicted a need to generate more than 10,000 new jobs by 2023. Health care is one promising area for new jobs, he says. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal)

A federally funded forest project, health care and home-based businesses offer the best potential for job creation in Sandoval County.

That’s the message economic development specialist Mark Lautman has taken to residents, business representatives and local leaders at recent meetings in Cuba, Jemez Springs and Bernalillo.

The county hired Lautman to assess the county’s employment outlook. The assessment he produced in September predicted a need to generate more than 10,000 new jobs by 2023 to keep pace with population growth and the number of jobs lost through staffing cuts or closures and to reduce the unemployment rate to where it stood in 2007, at around 4 percent.

Lautman is meeting with community members to gather public input on how they can become involved in efforts to promote economic development. The next meeting will be at 10 a.m. Dec. 11 at the UNM West Campus in Rio Rancho.

Representatives from Central New Mexico Community College, Sandoval County administration, the nonprofit Nature Conservancy and local businesses attended the meeting this week in Bernalillo.

Lautman told them the Southwest Jemez Mountains Restoration Project, which aims to reduce wildfire risks by clearing forest undergrowth, could lead to 500 new jobs in Sandoval County’s rural areas. Examples he gave included forest clearing work and producing building materials, pellets for wood-burning stoves and biomass to generate electricity.

Securing the federal funds, finding qualified workers and entrepreneurs and getting support from local communities and the state Legislature will take a dedicated effort, Lautman said.

Urban areas could benefit from the growing need for health care professionals. Lautman said the county could take advantage of the Presbyterian Rust Medical Center and UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center hospitals, along with the Central New Mexico Community College and UNM West campuses in Rio Rancho to develop programs to train employees to fill the needs.

Home-based “solo” businesses are another potential job-generation sector, Lautman said, but they need reliable broadband Internet service.

County Manager Phil Rios said the county can provide some assistance – it hired Lautman – but the bulk of the effort and investment will have to come from the communities and the private sector.

Lautman’s assessment recommends creating a county-wide economic development corporation with an annual budget of $875,000 funded by the county, individual municipalities and the private sector.

The corporation could work locally with chambers of commerce, Sandoval County Small Business Development Center and local MainStreet economic development organizations, Lautman said.