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County gives economic group additional $25K

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Michael Espiritu, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., talks about some of the priorities and accomplishments of the group with the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, which voted Thursday to give additional funding to the organization. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., the area’s primary business and economic developer, has received another $25,000 for the year from Chaves County, bringing it closer to the $75,000 that it had requested for the fiscal year.

The Chaves County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to provide the additional funding to the group, having previously decided in May to provide only $25,000 of the $75,000 requested by the organization.

The original decision caused upset among the group’s board members, some of whom explained that the organization relied on the funding for its operational budget that pays for efforts to attract new businesses, retain and support existing businesses, develop the workforce to meet employers’ needs and improve the community as a whole.

The group also receives $120,000 from the city of Roswell and about $80,000 from membership fees, in addition to grants that fund special projects or initiatives.

In May, some commissioners had expressed a desire for more communication between the two groups and said they did not think enough progress had been made by the group during the previous fiscal year.

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Some of its board members strongly disagreed with that assertion, listing 11 major achievements during its annual meeting. Those included the establishment of Opportunity Zones; the assistance helping a new business, Red Mountain Arsenal, establish itself in Roswell; the passage of air authority legislation; helping USA Beef Packing start operations in the county; and recruiting Code 3 Services to the city.

A leadership change at the Economic Development Corp. occurred since the Board of Commissioner’s funding decision. The former president, John Mulcahy, resigned soon after the county vote, effective June 1, receiving many tributes, including from commissioners for his work. After a search, Michael Espiritu, previously an economic developer in Alamogordo and a manager and supervisor with a contractor for Holloman Air Force Base, became the head of the organization Oct. 1.

On Thursday, Espiritu was praised for his efforts during the past months, especially his frequent communications with the board.

“You have jumped right in and made a great difference already for the community since you came here,” said Chair Will Cavin. “I do appreciate the fact that you are here, giving us an update on what you and Tawnie (Honey) have been doing since you were pushed into the pool.”

Espiritu’s report gave an overview of some of the organization’s work in recent months. He said the group is seeking to work with a nonprofit serving the oil and gas industry to help counties with roads or infrastructure impacted by the industry; is striving to increase retail businesses that meet local consumers’ needs; is assisting USA Beef Packing with its ongoing business goals and its future expansion plans; has worked with educators, workforce groups, veterans groups and employers to discuss ways to train and educate people for local careers; has coordinated a housing summit in cooperation with the city that Espiritu said was attended by about 100 people and resulted in calls from potential developers; and has advocated for and intends to put into use legislation that will provide tax credits for the renovation of older buildings.

“The next six months, we will be very actively involved in business attraction and recruitment,” he said. “But we have to layer that with workforce development. One of the challenges that I have seen since I have been here is the number of employers who say, ‘I need people. I need employees. I need skilled workers.’ It is very challenging to attract a company if you do not have skilled workers already, let alone skilled workers for that company in the future.”

He also acknowledged the challenges of the past between city and county leaders, and said he is encouraged to see that relationships are being built or strengthened.

Commissioner Robert Corn, one of the toughest critics of the group during the original vote in May, also expressed his appreciation.

“It is a team effort. The communication has been greatly enhanced since he came on board,” said Corn.

After the meeting, Espiritu said the organization remains hopeful that, as it continues to report on its activities and achievements, it will receive the remaining $25,000 from the county in 2020 to help it pursue the goals it has for the year.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.