By Mary Alice Murphy

Association of Commerce and Industry President and Chief Executive Officer Jason Espinoza visited Silver City on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, on the group's Focus Tour.

"We need to relook at regulatory issues," Espinoza said. "Are they incentivizing or hampering economic growth?"

He said it was hard for most people in the Rio Grande corridor to understand rural areas and their problems.

"We recently went to Clayton," Espinoza said. "It had a business opportunity come check the town out, but after trying to work with New Mexico regulations, it moved to Texas, because the rules and regulations in New Mexico were too complex."

He noted another issue he hears across the state is the difficulty of getting inspectors to come in and check any construction, whether new or renovation.

"We are looking for solutions," Espinoza said. "That's why we're doing this Focus Tour to hear what you have to say. We want to hear your issues. We've been talking about rural access to health care. New Mexico has only two growing industries—health care and tourism."

He said ACI wants to make sure that legislators understand the issues. "If someone is thinking about coming to a community, but they have a family member with a health issue and they don't find adequate access to care, they won't come."

Espinoza said it is also important to invest in New Mexico. "I know the state wants to get the best value on its money, but I say it's the price that they are looking for, not the value. We need a study to look at the impact of buying local. The ACI has been instrumental in investing in New Mexico. We are encouraging that every government entity and every business invest at least 9 percent within the state. At approximately $10 million per percentage point, the state is leaving almost $100 million on the table, by not investing within the state. We have to look at the whole picture."

Scott Terry, Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce president told about a family who came through town. "They liked the ride through the Black Range, but the kid suggested a log ride back down the mountain to Truth or Consequences."

"This is a big area for retirement," Terry said.

"We have to grow the pie," Espinoza said. "The Jobs Council discussed retirees at lot. They are economic-based jobs. They bring in pensions or other funding. We are supportive of the need to look at the health care piece."

Realtor Cissy McAndrew said the issue of inspectors is a problem. "We used to have a local building inspector. It was working well, but he retired. It came back to the requirements put on a new inspector and the town couldn't afford them. We have an inspector out of Las Cruces, but we have to wait."

She said another thing that concerns her in small business is online purchasing. "I harp on local customer service being important. I'm an advocate for local purchasing. I was looking for a pair of shoes and couldn't find what I needed, so I bought online. I was taxed on my purchase. I asked (Sen.) Howie (Morales) about where the tax goes. He didn't know where it went."

McAndrew also said a lot of damaged product arrives by UPS, so it's best to buy local. "We need to do something for small businesses and support them on taxes."

Espinoza said the ACI also is looking at the complexity of taxes in the state. "Most of the talk is on how the state gets taxes. Each county and municipality sends 100 percent of the taxes it collects to the state. We have to make sure local entities get their share back. Even for Walmart, our state taxes put them at a disadvantage."

Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez came back to the issue of health care. "I serve as an advisory member on the Health and Human Services Committee. One item that has been presented is the lack of primary care physicians. We are short 216 in New Mexico, 88 short in Las Cruces alone. The issue is how to provide health care to rural areas. Hidalgo Medical Services has been a benefit because they treat from the oldest to the youngest. The University of New Mexico is only able to enroll 25 students a year. It's a nationwide issue. We are fortunate to have a good health care system in Grant County. It affects people coming in and new businesses starting. It ties in with education. It seems nowadays that everyone is expected to go to college. But every trade across the state is looking for specialists, like electricians, of which I am a certified electrician, to provide services. Facebook is short 150 electricians. I know economic development and jobs are the priority. But we shouldn't just have companies come in with incentives and then leave. And we need to make sure regulations are not hurting businesses. We need tax reform, which needs extensive study to determine what works for New Mexico, not what works for Arizona or Texas."

"If you look at our top priorities," Espinoza said, "fully funding Medicaid is one."

To Western New Mexico University President Joseph Shepard Espinoza said he believes apprenticeships would help. "I would love to pull you into a conversation on the topic. Tax bills are one thing that concerns me. Even tax experts are not in agreement on what a particular bill means. Tax bills need to be done in a thoughtful way. Businesses need certainty, predictability and consistency."

Shepard said: "As president, obviously I look at economic development. Look at China and Japan. They have a deep commitment to education. If our Legislature had an extra $10 million, I would support it in Pre-K. I know I won't see it for 15-18 years, but look at Japan, at South Korea. They are send us high tech items. They invested in education."

"My view is not about the 18-year-olds," Shepard continued. "We're not traditional students here. We have fantastic students, but we are hampered by accrediting and requirements that drive up the price. We, in a state and country that needs more nurses, have a cap on how many student nurses we can take. Our state seems to think in a single dimension on extractive industries. We need to diversify. The laws stifle diversifying. Take, for example, the liquor laws. Downtown you can't get a mixed drink, except at Little Toad where they have their own distillery.

"I've always thought Fort Bayard would be a great place for a Ritz-Carlton," he said. "I called up a friend in the business and he said the state doesn't support such development. Arizona figured it out. We need real change. Guess who goes to the resorts? The ones who own their own private planes and can expand their businesses into New Mexico."

Espinoza said on the topic of education. "That's where we have a challenge in this state. States where they are succeeding have business up here and government down here. In New Mexico, we have government up here and business down here. The business community should be the ones driving policy, not the government."

He said the Economic Development Department Secretary goes to businesses to tell them what to support. "It should be businesses driving policy."

Espinoza also cited the issue around soft skills. "Me going into college isn't going to change my soft skills. They need to start in pre-school. The state spent a lot of dollars getting Facebook and the Spaceport here. Why not spend money on the infrastructure? Invest in New Mexico where it stays."

Terry said the state auditor spoke at a chamber meeting a year or so ago. "Sometimes, they have great ideas. But this one said he would like to see us move to more electric cars. I think it was Bruce (Ashburn) who asked: 'If there is no gas tax generated, how are we going to keep up the roads?'"

"Infrastructure is key," Terry agreed. "If the Ritz Carlton were to come to look and there is terrible infrastructure, they would leave."

Espinoza said: "You know on the ground about your infrastructure. The incentive here is the impact infrastructure has. We need predictable, consistent, affordable energy in the state."

"For years, we have needed reliable air service here," McAndrew said. "Now we are very lucky to have Boutique Air. They have a once a day link to Phoenix, and there are always six to eight people on the plane going to or from Albuquerque. I worry if the federal government might stop the subsidies. Maybe the community needs to look at how to support this air service."

"I hear you say air service affects health care, home sales, tourists and business in general," Espinoza said. "We try to be the facilitator to show how change can affect the communities."

Kim Clark, Silver City Regional Association of REALTORS®, Inc. Executive and Government Affairs Director, also pointed out the antiquated liquor laws that are not friendly in New Mexico. "I agree with the conversation on construction and inspectors. (Rep. Rebecca) Dow's empty buildings bill should be revitalized. We have to get the construction industry behind it. Economic development is not just about bringing in outside businesses, but we should focus on supporting our existing businesses."

Dow said she had many stories about regulations. "A year-and-a-half ago, we were trying to get a Fisher House in Albuquerque for veterans to have a place to stay when they go to the Veteran's Hospital. Fisher Houses are all over the country. It would be a brand new building, but historic preservation won't approve the plans."

She noted that Thursday at the Spaceport, an economic development event would be held at the Spaceport from 1-2:30 p.m. "Virgin Galactic is moving people from Mojave to New Mexico."

Dow also talked about education. "The barriers, especially for younger children, are extreme. We can't teach kids to string noodles because we would be wasting food. Here in Silver City, not one church could meet the requirements for the child-care facility that was leaving the Methodist Church. It needed more space to grow, but the toilets were too high or the windows too low."

Terry said he would like to talk about membership in the chamber. "People wait until they are going out of business before they come to us or the Green Chamber. If you want our business, you have to support us."

Espinoza agreed that engagement is vitally important.

Martinez pointed out issues with behavioral health. "We have an opioid crisis. How do we engage businesses to address the issue? I know some is prescribed and some is not."

"Two years ago, behavioral health came up," Espinoza said. "It is a work force issue. That's the framing we have taken. I would love a conversation around it."

Tony Trujillo said Grant County has a big substance abuse issue. "Part of the problem is that Santa Fe doesn't know we exist. We had a treatment facility, but the state took it away from us."

Dow concurred. "It was a huge issue when Yucca Lodge closed. Veterans Services has talked about putting in 12 beds for substance abuse treatment. The Veterans Home in Truth or Consequences is solvent. The state needs $24,000 to redo Yucca Lodge for 24 beds. That is why I support public-private partnerships."

Clark agreed on the public-private partnerships.

Ashburn said to Dow: "You can't let anyone leave without their support for your empty building bill. The Buffalo Bar will be so hard to find someone to rent it or buy it. It affects every community in New Mexico. You touched on the childcare becoming an issue. We are losing workers because they can't find a place to keep their child. It's a huge issue."

Dow said she could quote regulations in her sleep. "It's too expensive to fix up a facility. The barrier is the facility."

Espinoza said providing a place for one's child where it is safe is key.

Shepard told Terry that Boutique Air was going to become a chamber member.

Dow said for toddlers, a facility has to have toddler-sized toilets and low sinks.

Terry talked again about Fort Bayard. "It is owned by the state, which, as we all know, has no money. But the state won't let anyone do anything at Fort Bayard. Why does the state want to keep it? Santa Clara has jumped through all the hoops, but the hurdles keep coming. It's ridiculous to have such a wonderful piece of property. Why won't the state allow someone to do something with it? It could be something to drive tourism. The plan Santa Clara did showed other options for economic development."

"The theater is beautiful, but the doors don't lock well, so they won't let us use it," Terry said. "The state won't expend $400 to fix the locks and won't let the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society fix the locks."

Dow said the childcare issue would be on an interim legislative committee agenda in November.

Live from Silver City

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