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.”