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LAS CRUCES – If the City of Las Cruces, Doña Ana County and its other funding partners are the production team, the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance (MVEDA) is the sales and marketing team.
MVEDA’s goal is to create economic development opportunities and enhance the wealth of the county and its residents, said MVEDA President and CEO Davin Lopez, who took the helm at the nonprofit in February 2009.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to create more jobs, greater wealth through more payroll generation and capital investment,” Lopez told the Las Cruces City Council in late June.
MVEDA had “the greatest year in our history” in FY 2018-19, Lopez told the council. It had set a target of 475 announced jobs for the year, but reached more than 1,700, he said, including almost 1,300 jobs at Stampede Meat in Sunland Park, which will generate more than $103 million in capital investment.
The 1,295 jobs created at Stampede constituted the largest single job creation effort in New Mexico in more than a decade, Lopez said, and one of the largest in state history.
MVEDA has helped generate an average of 400-500 new economic-based jobs a year during the past five years, he said, and since FY 2010-11, 54 percent of the jobs it has announced have been based in Las Cruces. As a regional marketing organization, Lopez said, MVEDA recognizes that “what’s good for the region is what’s good for all communities in the region as well.”
“Each and every year we’re leading the state in terms of job creation and job announcement,” he said. “We are providing a return on investment in our job creation efforts.”
MVEDA became the first organization ever to use the state’s film tax credit to attract a videogame company to New Mexico – Ganymede Games of Las Cruces. It also was able to convince the state that Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) funds could be used for greenhouse production, Lopez said, and that helped bring Rich Global Hemp Corp. and 150 new jobs to the county.
Going forward, Lopez said, the videogaming and hemp production industries, along with outdoor recreation and telemarketing, hold promise for job development in the county.
MVEDA’s regional approach to marketing is like a puffer fish, Lopez said, because It expands to make itself look bigger than it actually is by including El Paso and Cuidad Juarez. That boosts the population base to more than one million and the student population to about 140,000, he said, and it adds an international airport that is less than an hour away.
MVEDA also boasts of a unique cross-border manufacturing base that includes both Juarez and Chihuahua, he said, along with a large regional healthcare market and a workforce that is known to be hard-working.
MVEDA’s marketing challenges include providing enough employees with the skill sets (certifications and degrees) employers look for, Lopez said, and a lack of the facility assets companies require. He said MVEDA wants to “cast a bigger net in marketing” to overcome the city’s and county’s lack of visibility.
Uncertainty about the U.S.-Mexico border situation and the as-yet unratified trade deal among the U.S., Mexico and Canada that would replace NAFTA have also been a challenge for MVEDA, Lopez said, and so have threats of tariffs against China.
Though MVEDA is its own best source of leads, it continues to be underfunded, Lopez said, working with a much smaller budget than organizations it competes against. At the same time, New Mexico lags behind other states because it doesn’t have a “permanent funding vehicle” for economic development, Lopez said, and the budget for the New Mexico Partnership, designated as “the single-point-of-contact for locating and expanding businesses” in the state, has a budget of only $1.4 million, $600,000 below where it started in 2003.
City funding for MVEDA has remained at $200,000 a year for at least the past 10 years, Lopez told city councilors.
“I would support a reasonable increase in our donation to MVEDA,” Mayor Pro-Tem Gill Sorg said at the council’s June 24 meeting. “I think it’s about time that we increased your budget,” Councilor Kasandra Gandara said.
Lopez said MVEDA has a total staff of five, including himself and one other full-time business development specialist who attend trade shows on a regular basis. He said MVEDA would benefit from the immediate addition of one more business development specialist and another position that combines business development and special projects. An additional $100,000 from the city, he said, would be helpful in creating those two positions and would likely help MVEDA attract greater financial support from other partners.
“It’s going to be tough,” Lopez said, “but we’re excited about the future and what it might bring.”
Mike Cook may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.