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Put rural New Mexico on your conference list

I have a job that takes me to rural areas all over New Mexico. Lately, while traveling the back roads from one farm field to another, I’ve been thinking a lot about New Mexico – its past and its future.

The Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas opened in 1882 as “The Belle of the Southwest,” the fanciest hotel in all of New Mexico Territory. (Journal File)

This year we elected an exciting new governor, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, a leader who’s full of energy and ambition for our state. If the governor were to ask me how to improve the quality of life for these small communities, I’d tell her this: Governor, encourage New Mexicans to know New Mexico.

One way to do this? Ask professional organizations to hold conferences in small towns and cities throughout the state. Trial lawyers, medical professionals, environmentalists, child protective workers, educators, engineers, architects, administrators and labororganizations should choose small communities like Tucumcari, Las Vegas and Cimarron over national hotel chains located in urban centers like Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Organizers and city officials should encourage conference attendees to walk from auditoriums to small-screen theaters to public libraries to convention centers for their lectures, stopping and speaking to local residents along the way.

Allowing for an informal exchange of ideas with locals would encourage residents of these communities to share their experiences and concerns.

Why rely on outside consultants to canvas public opinion when conference goers can do it conversationally by asking their own questions:

• Is water quality an issue? – environmentalists and occupational health.

• Do residents have access to nutritious good choices? – grocers, farmers, nutritionists and city planners.

• Is medical care adequate and accessible? – physicians, nurses, EMTs and healthcare policy planners.

• Is effective treatment for drug addiction available? – behavioral/addiction/mental health professionals.

• Are your schools attracting and retaining qualified teachers? – educational policy groups.

• Is your local detention center helping its inmates to adapt back into their communities or recycling them through the system? – state prosecutors, defense attorneys detention center administrators and members of the judiciary.

Starting these conversations would create new opportunities for solutions – in all four corners of the state, not just the two urban (centers).

Tucumcari has a host of inviting Route 66 motels with over 50 roadside rooms, an enterprising college, an accessible convention center and a muralist whose artwork has single-handedly kick-started its economy.

Accommodations in this smaller city are affordable, designed to encourage conversation and within walking distance of one another.

Las Vegas has the Plaza Hotel – 67 rooms with banquet space – and the soon-to-be-opened Castaneda, a former Harvey House property rich in history and lore – 20 suites with conference rooms. Nearby institutions like Highlands University, the World College and the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute employ skilled professionals with insights that groups can and should draw on. Las Vegas is situated in what was once one of the most fertile and productive farming areas in the state.

Nearby Mora, a hamlet, spearheaded New Mexico’s first ban against fracking.

Cimarron has the incomparable Hotel James and Philmont, a stunning ranch owned by the Boy Scouts of America that recently lost its largest donor due to the Scouts’ decision to admit girls.Want to send the Scouts a message that they did the right thing? Hold your group’s next meeting at Philmont.

Gallup is another place full of miners, artisans, farmers and other rarely heard voices. It offers a storefront conference center, historic accommodations at the El Rancho Hotel, and proximity to some of the most beautiful sites in the state. Consider what having a conference in Gallup that encouraged locals to voice their views might do!

We have a wonderful opportunity before us. Why not put our money where our mouth is and spread economic prosperity to ALL of New Mexico by inviting urban New Mexicans to explore rural New Mexico – and speak to their neighbors – as part of their professional development?

There’s more culture to New Mexico than Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Pilar Tirado Murray can be reached at




Suggested on ABQjournal