County asks health care providers for input on economy

Observer staff writer | Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 8:00 am

Sandoval County and its communities are at an “economic crossroads” and require major investment and leadership development to move them ahead, says the Sandoval County Economic Development Assessment and Strategy, delivered to the county commission last week.

The report calls for a new economic development organization whose goal would be to secure 10 economic-base employers each year for 10 years. A health and human services complex at Rio Rancho’s City Center could attract 20 major employers and 2,200 jobs.

The report was prepared by a volunteer task force and economic development consultant Mark Lautman to provide the framework for a county-wide economic development plan.

Task force members represented a broad range of stakeholders, including local governments, chambers of commerce, the business and health community and schools.

“Economic development is a new game,” the report says, “more complicated, expensive and leadership intensive.” The county needs to make a “major investment in leadership development” and produce a “new crop of 25-45-year-old leaders at almost every level.”

Area health care providers have been invited to a meeting with Commissioner Glenn Walters on Thursday to weigh in on some of the plan’s elements. Further public meetings could follow.

After decades of tremendous growth, the county has “suffered a major reversal of fortune,” report says. Median household incomes have dropped 22 percent since 2005. The county’s urban communities, such as Rio Rancho “lost over a third of their economic-base jobs.”

While the national and state economies have seen some recovery, the report warns the county will experience another “debilitating decade of economic contraction unless the recommendations in this report are acted on soon.”

Recovering from the Great Recession, according to the county strategy, will require “a minimum of 18,000 new jobs.” At least 10,000 need to be economic-base jobs, which will provide the biggest boost to the local economy.

The strategy recommends a “major escalation in the scale and quality of economic and workforce development efforts,” in both the public and private sectors, to “stop the bleeding and take advantage of the substantial opportunities on the horizon.”

Rio Rancho, the report says, has lost “its reputation as a one of the most pro-business communities in the state.”

Recent actions

Recent county actions and legislative tax reform “have begun to restore the business climate.” The strategy asks the county to unify stakeholders.

“Get back in the game” the report says. Health care presents a unique opportunity “for moving the needle in the short term.”

A new economic development corporation needs to secure 100 major economic-base employers by 2023. Local government planning needs realignment.

The strategy does not put a price tag on the health and social services complex. The county will need considerable “education, training, innovation and enterprise development” to meet the increased demand for services anticipated over the next several decades.

The new EDC would take over the work of the Rio Rancho Economic Development Corporation.

It would require, through 2015, $175,000 from the city, $75,000 from other urban and rural communities, $100,000 from the county and $525,000 in private funds.

The report suggests additional federal, state and county spending: $100,000 for an incubator, $100,000 for agriculture, $350,000 for tourism and $550,000 for worker pilots. It does not provide costs for the innovation and enterprise accelerator or talent attraction.

Sandoval County Public Information Officer Sidney Hill says there are no “formal next steps” for the strategy guidelines, which the county manager and staff will review over the next several months.

County commissioners will decide which elements to approve.

Input meetings

A series of community and stakeholder meetings should happen next, according to the strategy, followed by organizational planning in governments and new programs like the EDC.

Hill said most of the commissioners will not be present at Thursday’s meeting, which will start at 6 p.m. at the county administration building. Hill did not know whether the county would hold more meetings to discuss the strategy.

The county will post the report and strategy on its website in the near future. Hill said the county will furnish copies to anyone who asks.

There is no guarantee that anything from the strategy will make it into next year’s county budget, Hill says.

The public may comment on the strategy when the county holds public hearings in April or May on its proposed budget.