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Sandoval County creates economic development fund

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

The Sandoval County Commission created a new $3 million economic development fund this month to help recruit, retain and expand businesses in Rio Rancho and other parts of the county.

The five-member commission unanimously approved a new Economic Development Project Account on June 1, using $1.06 million in interest earned on property taxes, plus $1.9 million in accumulated earnings from excess money paid by Intel Corp. on county-backed bonds approved in 2004.

“For the first time, the county is establishing an internal economic development fund,” said Sandoval County Commission Chairman Don Chapman. “We’re sending a statement to all our potential partners that we intend to have skin in the game through active engagement in economic development. We see many potential economic opportunities to pursue.”

The development account could grow to nearly $5 million by 2019, because the county also authorized use of $1.88 million it expects to earn from 2017 to 2019 on Intel payments. Intel makes payments to the county in lieu of taxes, but about $625,000 is left over each year after the county services the debt, Chapman said.

In contrast, the $1.06 million in earnings on property taxes is a one-time sum generated from revenue the county collected from 2010 to 2013 to support Rio Rancho’s two hospitals. It invested the money before distributing it.

The county wants to build on the Sandoval Economic Alliance’s success in recruiting and expanding businesses. The Alliance, which launched in 2014, receives $200,000 annually from the county, and $200,000 from the city, to promote and market Sandoval County among businesses nationwide.

Private sector assistance, plus substantial funding from the state’s Local Economic Development Act and workforce training programs, has generated some high-profile successes.

At least four new businesses have moved to Rio Rancho from other states since 2014, including DHF Technical Products, S&P Data, IT services company PCM and SafeLite AutoGlass. Others, such as Convergys, have significantly expanded.

The economic development fund will operate similar to LEDA, investing in needed infrastructure or offsetting other expenses to help businesses locate here or expand.

“We’ll use it to leverage other funds to support projects,” said Commissioner Dave Heil. “When we reach out to the federal and state governments and they ask what we’re putting in, now we can say we have the opportunity to invest as well.”

The new fund reflects a concerted effort by the county to focus squarely on economic development, especially with the Alliance’s current president and CEO, Jami Grindatto, stepping down in July. Steve Jenkins, a career economic development specialist now working in Wisconsin, will replace Grindatto.

The commission has also increased its contribution to the Alliance for the next fiscal year by $50,000. And it hired Dianne Maes, former Sandoval County director of business development and tourism, as the new county manager to replace Phillip Rios, who retired in May.

Maes is now setting up a new economic development division within the county manager’s office.

“We’re looking at internal policies, programs, infrastructure, business climate and processes within all our divisions today to redirect them to support economic development efforts,” Maes said. “We’re trying to build an organizational structure that will be proactive rather than reactive to be prepared for economic development.”