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Sandoval County, SEA enter new funding contract

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Sandoval Economic Alliance has amended its contract with the county.

SEA is a “home-grown” private organization that works in economic development for the county, said Sandoval County Economic Development Director Dora Dominguez.

The alliance is 6 years old and renews a contract with the county annually. Each contract provides guidelines and expectations for SEA.

This year, the organization will present to the commission in December, and if expectations are not sufficiently met, funding can be cut by 40 percent.

SEA will have “measurable deliverables” in order to keep the $200,000 awarded by the county, Dominguez said.

At the county commission meeting June 18, Dominguez, who is also a SEA board member, presented these conditions.

SEA is tasked with a new pilot program called the Economic Gardening Initiative, she said. SEA will need to provide tools and expertise to at least five businesses to help them grow.

Fred Shepherd became the CEO of Sandoval Economic Alliance in December.
Photo Amy Byres / Observer

These businesses will be chosen through an application process, said Fred Shepherd, CEO of SEA.

Businesses selected will be a part of three industries SEA targets for development and recruitment:

  • Life sciences,
  • Professional services and support, and
  • Advanced technology and manufacturing.

“We are targeting companies that are already in existence that have a presence and have had some successes,” he said.

Contact SEA at 891-4305 or info@sea-nm.com to learn how to apply.

The organization is also tasked with an increased role in implementing the Sandoval County Economic Development Action Strategy.

Shepherd said those goals include:

  • Economic growth,
  • Talent development,
  • Brand recognition, and
  • Global competitiveness.

SEA will work with businesses and increase their engagement and understanding of the strategy. It will also help businesses spread the message and help the local community understand the strategy, he said.

The strategy is also about utilizing tools like the VeriReady program, which provides sites suitable for development with much of the paperwork and approval process completed already. The strategy includes expanding infrastructure to create more sites ready for development, Shepherd said.

“Again, it is working with what we have locally, it’s economic gardening, working with local businesses and working with what we have to market, which is the land and buildings,” he said.

Shepherd said the more the community is engaged in this process, the more it will attract external businesses and opportunities.

At the commission meeting, Dominguez said, “We (at SEA) move forward with a new focus and a new resolve to not repeat past mistakes.”

In the past, the City of Rio Rancho had a contract with SEA that provided $200,000 to the organization. In May, the city approved a budget that no longer funded SEA.

The city council said it was due to lack of communication and return on investment. The COVID-19 pandemic also presented a budget crunch.

There have been two city managers and two interim city managers in Rio Rancho since 2018.

Chairman David Heil, District 4, said with changes in city managers along with three directors at SEA, communication broke down.

“I spent years in sales myself, and if you don’t tell the customer what you are doing for them, then pretty soon they don’t believe it themselves,” he said.

SEA is working on its communication, Shepherd said.

“Given the limited staff, (communication) we’ll be reliant on some of the board. Part of the reason we have representation from part of the county and city is so that there is some level of communication,” he said.

SEA will provide quarterly reports to the county and city, Shepherd said. The company also has an email list and is working on creating more social media content, he said.

Commissioner Katherine Bruch, District 1, said the Placitas area has a problem with connectivity and roads. The lack of connectivity prevents companies from growing and other businesses from coming into the community, she said

“I have always been, and always said, it is about what we provide; it is the services we provide and consistency in services we provide as a county,” Bruch said. “It is the infrastructure that we provide that helps our economy grow.”

She also brought up concerns over SEA’s relationship with other municipalities in the county, like Cuba and Corrales. Shepherd said relationships with other municipalities are there, but the company is working on strengthening and improving those relationships.

The contract will take effect July 1.

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