Northwestern New Mexico is at a crossroads. Like many communities throughout history, the foundation of our economy is based on a soon-to-be outdated industry. We can choose to become victims of change and progress or we can choose to benefit from it. Despite President Trump’s efforts, coal is going the way of horse-drawn carriages and typewriters. The good news is the region is blessed with incredible resources, giving us ample opportunities to diversify our economy to be more resilient.
In February of 2017, the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments released a report called Regional Economic Assessment & Strategy for the Coal-Impacted Four Corners Region, by Highland Economics LLC and Catalyst Environmental Solutions. In November of 2017, we asked an independent economist, Kelly O’Donnell, to evaluate their assessment. We released her report, linked below, this week.
This region has incredible potential to not only replace the jobs and economic impact of the region’s coal mines and power plants, but to create a more stable economy through diversification, re-training, and clean-up. But we must demand it.
Below is an Op-Ed by some of our members printed in the Santa Fe New Mexican highlighting the main results of report.
See the full report, Economic Opportunities in the Four Corners Area
Four Corners Future is in Our Hands
July 21, 2018
Next week, an important new report will be released entitled, Economic Opportunities in the Four Corners Area. For all of us in this area, we should pay careful attention to its findings.
The author is respected New Mexican economist Kelly O’Donnell. Dr. O’Donnell is a professor at UNM’s School of Public Administration and served our state as Director of State Tax Policy, Deputy Cabinet Secretary for Economic Development, and Superintendent of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department.
In her report, O’Donnell outlines several promising ways forward to diversify our regional economy, in the event that our coal industry declines, as many forecast. These are tough times for the Four Corners region. But by moving forward aggressively to create new economic development, we can ensure that Farmington’s future will be as bright as it was during the coal boom.
Based on extensive research, Dr. O’Donnell suggests five areas of growth for the Four Corners:
- Tourism and Recreation: We know what many do not–that the Four Corners region is rich with recreational and tourism attractions, with Farmington serving as a hub for day trips to numerous venues. From Chaco Canyon to Mesa Verde to mountain biking and hiking, Farmington can be a destination for regional, national, and even international travelers alike.
- Solar + Scalable Storage: We are proud of our history of producing energy for our state and region. Let’s add to it, so we can continue to be an energy capital for our state and also for the region. With the existing transmission capacity at the San Juan Generating Station and abundant sunshine, we can continue to produce energy that others rely upon.
- Mine Reclamation: In coal areas around the country, mine reclamation has created good paying jobs, increased property values, and improved business opportunities. We can and should ensure the same benefits here.
- Healthcare: Farmington and the Four Corners region can become a hub for healthcare in northwest New Mexico, improving our citizens’ health, stimulate the local economy, and bring in new revenue from Medicaid, Medicare, the Indian Health Service, and private insurers.
- Local food systems: Finally, our area is rich with local food producers and processors. We were founded as an agricultural community. Let’s build upon that great history, helping small businesses involved in food production reach statewide and regional markets, showcasing our history and our talents.
We are fighting hard to protect our local economy and we know we need to diversify to survive and create new opportunities for the next generation. Local government must make smart investments to support diversification. We are ready for a “both/and” economic development strategy so young people of the region choose to stay here and lead their lives and we can continue to grow our own businesses and economy, for the betterment of us all.
We hope you will join us in this aggressive pursuit of new and different jobs. We need Farmington’s families, our elected leadership, the business community, faith leaders, and young people to come together in this “all hands on deck” moment. Truly, our future is in our own hands, if we act now.
Authors: Gloria Lehmer, Steve Ellison and Jack Scott, Members of San Juan Citizens Alliance from Farmington and Aztec