As published in the Gallup Independent on 5/5/2020
Evan Williams, Executive Director
There are four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness response, and recovery. The step in the cycle that typically gets overlooked is the recovery part of this process as it is longer term, not as visible, after the fact, and thought to naturally occur on its own. To be frank, if the response does not happen effectively there is no reason to have a recovery plan, but recovery planning is indispensable in the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This means: an strategic action plan drafted, quality input and data garnered, assets and resources mapped, a Recovery Czar named, a partnership of private, public, and tribal sectors mobilized, and impact evaluated.
With our designation as the Economic Development District for our three-county region of Cibola, McKinley, and San Juan counties, the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments is being sought to assist our region and the US Economic Development Administration in leading on a comprehensive recovery plan.
Rightfully, there is a ton of focus on mitigation, preparedness, and response to the COVID-19 crisis, including economic support programs focused on providing relief to unemployed workers, businesses temporarily closed, and business owners having difficulties paying employees. Some of us are getting buried under the daily avalanche of COVID-19 relief programs and updates, but organizations and financial institutions exist to assist with connecting people and businesses to these short-term survival measures.
But who is thinking about long-term recovery and building business resiliency and redundancies for the new normal? After Hurricane Katrina, there was a recovery plan, process, and partnership to re-build communities affected by the disaster. To bring them back, not the same but hopefully stronger, more diversified, and more equitable in terms of opportunity and prosperity. With COVID-19 pandemic, never let a bad crisis go to waste. This is our time to set the table by taking a step back, planning our strategy, and implementing it together.
Our regional economy was already on the verge of crisis due to the collapse of coal markets. The price of oil is causing New Mexico to reduce spending. COVID-19 is compounding these problems with gross receipts tax revenues eroding to dust. So, why would we just re-arrange the chairs on the ‘Titanic’, when we could build a whole new ship. Let me be clear, I am not advocating for leaving on way side our region’s intrinsic assets, natural resources, or competitive advantages. These must be incorporated in a thoughtful approach as they are critical and not easily replaced in the macro picture.
The COGs around the State of New Mexico are working State agencies to develop a comprehensive but focused Recovery Plan for New Mexico to leverage resources in a way that builds a resilient, diversified, and globally sustainable economy. Our COG has drafted a framework and is surveying regional economic development professionals, community experts, and grasstops leaders to prune their best ideas. The challenge is not finding places where investments need to happen but prioritizing the top ones that will have the greatest impact and position our region for the future.
We know that businesses will reopen, employees will get back working, and taxes will begin to fill coffers to fund needed programs and services again. Bottom line, this is the American economy and Northwest New Mexico where business is still done with handshakes and hard work. But how does our region and New Mexico use this crisis to leapfrog our economy ahead? It is time to get into the game, roll up our sleeves, and kick a little butt New Mexico, not wait until manana. Let’s plan the recovery today!
Ways that the COG is preparing now to be the change in our region:
The Four Corners is recognized internationally for its cultural, geographic, archeological and iconic places and images. Yet sometimes, the people of the Four Corners are divided by jurisdictional and bureaucratic lines, political divides, and misconceptions. The economy of the Four Corners, no matter what tribe or pueblo, or State, or region, is facing an economic crisis. Our base industries that have supported our governmental coffers are changing, disappearing, and in some cases headed to extinction. The word diversification comes to the forefront and connecting our local efforts to regional action and a united voice for the future generations.
More than 140 people from Southwest Colorado, Northwest New Mexico, Southeast Utah and Northeast Arizona, including tribal officials, participated in the Four Corners Future Forum held in November 2017 to kick off efforts to create an economic alliance. Momentum has been growing around regional tourism and broadband deployment, and several big events are being planned to jumpstart these major Four Corners initiatives. The Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments (COG) is interested in growing these and other initiatives as the designated economic development district for the three-county area of San Juan, McKinley, and Cibola counties.
“Our region is facing an economic crisis that will take everyone working together around an asset-based approach to stabilize. This work will be difficult and there are no silver bullets, but the sooner we start this work the sooner we will succeed.” Evan Williams, Executive Director, of the COG said.
The work of the COG is centered around sound planning and development and we have been reaching out through our National Association to work with other coal communities throughout the United States to understand what they are doing. We have also looked to other regions that leading the conversation like Region 5 in Central Minnesota. The Four Corners Future Forum participants were inspired by the excellent input provided Minnesota’s Region 5 Executive Director Cheryal Lee Hills and in follow-up several members of our Forum committee made the trip to Minnesota and met dozens of citizen-leaders in their “Resilient Regions” initiative.
Melissa Meechan, Four Corners POWER Initiative director with the office of the president for San Juan College, said the need to reach beyond economic officials and business leaders was brought home when a core group of organizers traveled to central Minnesota to visit a successful regional economic alliance.
“We realized we were going to need more community input,” she said. The group had planned to reach out to community leaders in government, business and economic development before they visited the Region Five Development Commission in central Minnesota.
A key take-away from the Region 5 experience was the need to reach a broad regional audience and be intentional in building the partnership in order to get a handle on what needs to be done to develop the region and its communities, and to identify and support new leadership in carrying out the goals and priorities of the initiative.
The COG is getting ready to update its five-year Regional Plan and is working hard to bring in best practices and new engagement models to bolster its impact. To that end, Mr. Williams added that “Bad plans sit on a shelf, but good planning can be the driving force in getting people to move ahead together and the compass by which to follow. It is our goal to deploy a distributed leadership model and have leaders that are committed to real change and accountability for progress. We believe that folks in the Four Corners are resilient and have always stepped up in meet the challenge, and we are calling for them once again.”
Jen Hughes Kick-off Address, NEA Our Town
Jen Hughes, Director of Design and Creative Placemaking, National Endowment for the Arts, provides welcome address for the Coal Avenue Commons kick-off held at the El Morro Theatre, in downtown Gallup, on May 1, 2018.
"Real Green Building Systems", Doug Lenberg, 2017
Presentation provided to Gallup Solar in May 2017 regarding Energy & Water Conservation Approach to Homebuilding.