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Regional team will plan for economic recovery

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The region’s biggest industries by far are oil, gas and other extractive or mining industries and retail, as shown by this graphic representation of the size of various economic sectors. (Submitted Graphic)

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A regional economic recovery team is being formed now to develop plans and implement ideas to rebuild southeastern New Mexico businesses and the area’s tax base following the significant hits of the COVID pandemic.

Debi Lee of DLee Consultants and Associates LLC is serving as the economic disaster recovery specialist for the Southeastern New Mexico Economic Development District / Council of Governments. A former city manager for several New Mexico cities, she is on contract to lead the development of a plan by a team of business and government leaders.

The regional Economic Development District serves 26 municipalities and counties in Otero, Chaves, Lea, Eddy and Lincoln counties. It has received $400,000 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) funding, and a portion of that will be used for Lee’s consulting services and for the two-year process of determining how to help businesses, local governments and the educational and training sector recover.

“I am anxious to get started,” Lee said. “There are a lot of areas that I don’t have expertise on, but there are a lot of people who do have that knowledge.”

The group will have its first virtual meeting at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 21. Some local team members are Mike Mathews, Roswell deputy city manager; Bill Williams, Chaves County Public Services director; Juanita Jennings, city of Roswell Public Affairs director; Scott Stark, Roswell Air Center director; and Shawn Powell, president of Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell.

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Additional members are expected to be added in the coming weeks.

Lee said she understands that businesses need help now, not two years from now, and that part of the team’s work will be determining immediate actions that can help communities and businesses. She said the advantage of regional planning is that cities and counties can leverage each other’s strengths and resources to help each other recover.

“There is money out there,” she said. “We personally have a small business, so I know how hard it is to try to manage a small business and have this kind of an impact on you. So that needs to be at the top of the priority list. Strategic planning is typically a document that plans for the future. But what we have to do now is plan for today, plan for the next month and the next five months. We have to have the future in mind, but we have to take action now.”

The first step in the planning process is an analysis of the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis.

Lee completed a report already, but will update the information regularly. The information presented Friday — to the Economic Development District board — looked at several indicators of economic strength, including business activity as measured by gross receipts taxes. April 2020 to June 2020 business activity compared to April-June 2019 for cities and counties in the EDD region found a $14.91 million decrease in revenues.

While Chaves County as a whole experienced an increase of $283,181 in gross receipts tax activity as of June 2020, all but one of its municipalities had losses. Roswell had a $738,933 decrease. Hagerman had $15,880 less in GRT, while Dexter had $40,709 less. Lake Arthur — with a smaller tax base that does not rely on retail, food service or lodging — had an increase in GRT of $8,579.

Another indication of the significance of the economic downturn is that unemployment in Chaves County was at 13.4% for July 2020, compared to 4.2% in April 2019. For the entire region, unemployment stood at 13.3% as of September 2020, which compares to a 10.2% rate for the United States.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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