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State recommends new rural development fund

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The New Mexico Economic Development Department plans to ask for a special appropriation from lawmakers to address economic needs in rural areas of the state.

Cabinet Secretary Alicia J. Keyes told lawmakers on the Economic and Rural Development Committee on Aug. 14 that officials from rural communities around the state are asking for more investment that can potentially spur new business growth. But the cash-strapped areas are challenged to develop water, sewer and transportation corridors as quickly as urban centers.

“We want to see businesses grow and develop in all corners of the state, and investing in these areas can help these communities grow and keep jobs closer to home,” said Keyes.

The department is seeking to create the new Rural Infrastructure Fund to provide money for early stage projects such as industrial parks, spurs, roads and water needs to help communities prepare sites for businesses.

The new fund would be in addition to a $75 million closing fund, known as the Local Economic Development Act (LEDA), that offers infrastructure grants for business expansion projects ready to move forward with a commitment for a specific number of new jobs as well as investment dollars.

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The one-time special appropriation for the Rural Infrastructure Fund would provide millions of dollars to move the state’s rural infrastructure forward, and would exist within the LEDA statute, but have different parameters and more flexibility so funds can be used in rural areas for a greater variety of projects.

The appropriation to the Rural Infrastructure Fund will depend on upcoming general revenue estimates and the legislative priorities of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The 2020 Legislature convenes on Jan. 21.

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