Monthly Archives: August 2013

Silver City, Economic Development, Part 2

In my column August 4, NO! To Q of L Part 6, I listed the numerous negatives that make New Mexico an unlikely home for new businesses.  Fortunately, Silver City has some outstanding attractions to draw both tourists and retirees, not a mutually exclusive crowd (attract tourists, make ’em want to stay), which if aggressively promoted, can make Silver City a prospering community in spite of being in New Mexico.

Let’s look at a few of these assets that I think Silver City should promote and develop. You may have others.

1. The Big Ditch is unique to Silver City, a geologic wonder that is, indirectly, manmade.  I would like to know what it would cost to turn the Big Ditch into a little Catwalk, i.e. a tourist attraction with suspended walkways,  educational laminates, etc.  (The Town of Silver City has a Big Ditch Master Plan, which is a multiyear plan to integrate the Big Ditch into a local trails system.  Nice, but not enough.)

2. The murals in the downtown area are very attractive. How about adding another half dozen or so to both Hudson and Bullard Streets?  I’d donate to a mural fund. Rome is the “City of Fountains, Silver City can be the “City of Murals.” (Kudos to those painting the stores on Bullard!)

3. Turn Bullard Street into a “Half Mile Art Gallery.”  The two most unattractive features in Silver City seven years ago were the old hospital building, since razed, and the empty store fronts on Bullard, even worse today. A year ago I asked Nick Seibel, then manager of Silver City MainStreet, if it would be possible to use the empty windows to display art work, which realtor Cissy McAndrew was doing in an empty building she had for sale. It really looked quite nice. Nick said the problem with doing it up and down Bullard is that the owners of the buildings would have to agree to allow access, and then whoever was in charge would have to assume liability for vandalism, breaking and entering, etc.  This is a problem that the City Council could address.  Last October the Council passed a law requiring absentee owners to pay $35 for fire and safety inspections.  I would think suspension of that fee in return for downtown art gallery participation would be a start.

4. This area is a hiker’s paradise.  Take a look at just about any U.S. Geological Survey map (a.k.a. USGS Quadrangle, or “Quad” map), and you will see miles and miles of trails and four-wheel drive roads that go through our fantastic national forests.  Minnesota is the “Land of a Thousand Lakes.”   Grant County can be the “Land of a Thousand Trails.”

5. The geology of this area is fascinating and very diverse.  A few years ago, Professor of Geology Mary Dowse at WNMU gave a summer class, “Geology of Grant County.”  I would recommend the Chamber of Commerce, or somebody, hire Mary to have that course every summer, and call it “Grant County Geology For Newcomers.”  I’ll take it every year. Mary is a treasure.

6.  Promote Silver City as a summer home for retirees in Texas and Arizona.  I recently met a couple from Sun City, AZ , who spend their summers here to escape the Phoenix heat.  The same would certainly be true for retirees in Green Valley, AZ, El Paso, TX, etc.

7.  Advertise the Solar Carport, the Waste Water Treatment Plant Solar Array, and the presence of a four-year university. All of these indicate Silver City is a “progressive” community, something that will attract retiring professors from up north. They may not be engineering professors, but history, sociology, and others will be just as welcome.

If I were an advertising copy writer, my cup would runneth over:

Visit Silver City, New Mexico’s City of Murals, home of The Big Ditch Park, gateway to the Gila Cliff Dwellings and the living ghost towns of Pinos Altos and Mogollon, in the center of Grant County, New Mexico’s Land of a Thousand Trails.  Where all the children are above average —OOPS! Sorry, Garrison.

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Economic Development, Part 1

In last week’s column I listed some negatives that make the state of New Mexico an unattractive place to do business.  When local groups get together and try to come up with ways to get the Grant County economy revved up, they have to think within that framework.  It’s not like they are arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but damn close.

This doesn’t mean we should do nothing.  There are things we can do to help our local economy in spite of  being in New Mexico, but first we have to take a hard look at the realities of Grant County/Silver City. The Chairman of the Grant County Commissioners, Brett Kasten, has done that, and he doesn’t like what he sees.

The last two or three times I’ve heard Brett speak, he has mentioned that the school population in Grant County has dropped 50% in the last 30 years, while the overall population has remained around 30,000.  Brett is distressed by this, and he thinks we need to do something to become more family friendly, especially look for ways to attract jobs and improve our “quality of life.”

I look at the numbers differently.  Thirty years ago, Silver City was a high desert mining community, now it is a high desert retirement community. The families being attracted are those with no children in the nest.  Income statistics support this conclusion: In 1996, over half the income in Grant County was from paychecks; in 2010, over half was from retirement checks.

What this means is that the Gila Regional Medical Center (GRMC) is a more important asset for the future of Grant County than the mines run by Freeport-McMoRan.  The copper mining era, short of discovering a rich new vein, is over as an engine of growth. Attempts to integrate the mining of copper with fabrication of copper products, as some have urged, are not going to be successful in New Mexico. (See last week’s list of New Mexico negatives.)  It is what it is, folks, and no amount of wishful thinking will change it.

If Silver City has become a retirement community,  maybe we should concentrate on making it a BETTER retirement community, not necessarily a place to start just any business, but a business that caters to retired citizens, e.g. lawn and yard services, home maintenance, home medical care, pet sitting, and so on.  Some of the locals in these businesses could use a little competition!

What are the things that attracted my wife and me to retire here? In order of importance:

Climate
Low Taxes
Fabulous hiking
Small community with a WalMart.
WNMU

The GRMC was a very pleasant surprise.  If I were to make a list today, the GRMC would place third.  Nowhere on the list is “a vibrant downtown,”  “a cinema multiplex,” “paved golf cart paths,” or “college swimming teams and college baseball teams.”  In fact, efforts to supply all these things threaten to turn number two above, low taxes, into a negative: high taxes.

While our three county commissioners are promoting a tax to raise $10 million, over half of which will they will then turn over to WNMU, over which Grant County taxpayers have no control, the GRMC is undergoing a financial and management crisis.   The GRMC is a county responsibility,  a WNMU swimming pool is not.

Grant County Commissioners: Where are your priorities, gentlemen?

NO! To Q of L, Part 6

In the seven years I’ve been in  Silver City, I’ve witnessed a great deal of public huffing and puffing about “economic development.”  It seems like there is always an announcement in the paper about a meeting of VIPs that somehow involves bringing economic development to Silver City.

I can’t keep up with them all, e.g. The Grant County Economic Development Coalition for Progress, The Southwest New Mexico Economic Development Partnership, The Gila Economic Development Alliance, Silver City Main Street,  Silver City – Grant County Prospectors,  The Chamber of Commerce – regular, The Chamber of Commerce – Green, WNMU’s Small Business Development Center, and so on. I’ve probably left out a few.

A couple years ago, Grant County even hired an economic development coordinator, I guess less to coordinate any actual economic development than to coordinate the various groups who were head scratching about economic development. That position is no more, assumed by the head of the Grant County Planning Department, Anthony Gutierrez.

(I read in the paper recently that Gutierrez, when asked to report on economic development, said that would be easy, because there wasn’t any. There’s a guy to vote for!)

Naturally, when you don’t have any economic development, EVERYTHING is pushed as economic development.  Refurbish the Silco Theater? ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT!  Build a Twin Sisters Reservoir? ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT!

So it isn’t surprising that one of the reasons for increasing the GRT is to help bring economic development to Grant County, specifically for the Convention Center and a multiplex theater, more generally to build a “quality of life” infrastructure necessary to attract the type of people economic development requires, i.e. professionals and entrepreneurs, who have lots of other places to choose from. The problem with all of this is in the last two words of where we live, Grant County, New Mexico.  Repeat slowly: New Mexico.

Nobody in their right mind would move a business into New Mexico, unless maybe it was a sole proprietorship or family enterprise.  Why is that, you say?  Let’s look at some of the things that a potential business newcomer would review. We don’t have to mine the data too deeply, which wouldn’t change the conclusion.  We‘ll just take a quick look, which is all a potential business would do before deciding to look elsewhere, e.g. Texas, Arizona or Oklahoma.

– NM tied at 36th with KY in a recent CNBC 2013 ranking of states in which to do business. (TX #1, AZ #22, OK #4, CO #8) CNBC ranked NM 46 in education, 47 in business friendliness.
– 50th state, Economic Freedom of North America, the Fraser Institute, 2012
– #1 “Death Spiral” state by Forbes, 11/25/12. A ranking of private workers vs. welfare recipients and government workers.
– #45 in legal climate, Institute for Legal Reform, 2012.
– #50 in Kids Count 2013 report, Annie E. Casey Foundation, NM Voices for Children.
– #50 high school graduation rate, Diplomas Count. 10-year to 2010, ahead of only D of C..
– NM = D- grade in K-12 Achievement, Education Research Center, 2012. Above D of C, Louisiana, Mississippi.
– Bottom 10 states in rating of four year colleges, US Chamber of Commerce, 2012.
– Surrounded by right-to-work states: TX, AZ, OK, UT (but not CO.)
– Renewable energy of 20% by 2020 = electric rates higher than states without renewable standards.
– Largest private employer, Intel, can’t meet goal of new hires being at least 60% from NM.
– NM only state west of Mississippi as “top outbound” in 2012, United Van Lines.
– NM one of only seven states with complex, business unfriendly “gross receipts tax.”

Take a look at that list, and you’re sure tempted to move your business to NM, right?  It also means “economic development” efforts that don’t take into consideration the state’s problems are largely a waste of time.  Even making Highway180 to Deming a four-lane won’t help much, maybe a little more tourism. For sure, golf cart paths, baseball diamonds, and swimming pools won’t do anything, but maybe an empty cinema multiplex will draw tourists fresh from a visit to the empty Spaceport.

NO! To Q of L Tax Increase Part 5

“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.  – THOMAS SOWELL

At the forum Thursday at WNMU on raising the GRT, Nick Seibel said the following about the ballot’s lack of spending specificity, “We elected these people, so we can hold them accountable by being able to replace them.”

Really? Let’s think about it. How do you hold accountable someone who’s no longer in office, e.g. former Governor Richardson and his Spaceport?  What about the proportionality problem? By this I mean the “punishment“ of losing office rarely compensates for the damage done.  If we boot out the commissioners responsible for a multimillion dollar cinema multiplex boondoggle, we’re holding the bag while they’re going on their merry way.  That’ll show ’em!

Then we come to WNMU President Joe Shepard, not an elected office holder.

In truth, there is nothing we can do to any of them to hold them truly accountable. This got me to thinking about a surety bond, or performance bond, that the county could require of the commissioners voting to build the multiplex. This works sort of like a life insurance policy. If the multiplex “dies”, the surety company pays the face amount of the policy, e.g. $100,000, to the county and then cashes in the collateral the commissioner(s) placed with the surety company.

I contacted a surety company and talked to a knowledgeable young man about doing this, and I learned that there is no company, anywhere, that writes performance bonds on politicians. Gee. How sad.  The sympathetic young man, Josh, suggested that I look into something called an irrevocable letter of credit, ILC, issued by a local bank that would pledge payment to the county from the customer’s account, in this case a county commissioner’s account, in the event of the multiplex not meeting expectations.

I then talked to a local bank president.  Yes, an ILC in such a case is possible, but normally the bank requires a cash escrow, not a second mortgage or promissory note, etc.,  BUT, it is certainly conceivable an ILC could be issued using such collateral.  I figure, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Then, I thought, why ask just the county commissioners to step up to the plate?  There are a number of Silver City’s leading citizens who would like to see a cinema multiplex built here, and I’m sure all of them would join the three county commissioners in pledging a portion of their personal assets, say $100,000 each, to at least partially indemnify Grant County taxpayers in the event the multiplex bombs.

Following is a list of  people identified in local news coverage, mostly The Grant County Beat, as supporting raising the GRT to build a multiplex. If I have left anyone out, I sincerely apologize, and if I’ve wrongly accused –oops!–cited you as a multiplex supporter, I will publicly apologize, buy you a cup of expresso at Polly’s Javalina and donate $5 to The Puppy Dog Ranch.

Joe Shepard, James Marshall, Alex Brown, Alex Ocheltree, Tony Trujillo, Jason Quimby, Nick Seibel, Skip Thacker, Trent Petty, Mary Stoecker, Kim Clark, Edward Encinas, and of course our three Gant County Commissioners: Brett, Gabe and Ron.

Since I am personally acquainted with almost all of these people, I know they are an honorable bunch who will rush to take out ILCs in the tragic event the GRT tax increase is approved by the voters.  At $100,000 each, that will go a long way to protecting Grant County’s taxpayers.

Furthermore, it will be a noble effort that will garner much favorable publicity for Silver City. I can see one of my favorite Libertarians, John Stossel, leading the TV crews down Bullard, interviewing proud citizens and proclaiming how this could be the start of a national trend that could CHANGE THE FUTURE OF AMERICA!

I’m so proud of the folks who will be doing this that the more I think about it, the more choked up I’m getting.  The page is getting blurry, so I’d better quit now. Besides, it’s my turn on Signal Peak to watch for Crop Circle Aliens.