Feb 14, 2017

Innovative New Mexico Economic Development Department Program Spurs Construction and Expansion Projects

In the first few days of this year came the news that the Israeli-based Keter Plastics was purchasing and renovating a 165,000 square foot building in Belen for use as a new manufacturing facility.

In so doing, Keter announced it would build a 60,000 square foot expansion to the building that once housed the Silo Cup plant.

Just two weeks later El Pinto Foods of Albuquerque said it was going to expand its current manufacturing facilities in the city by more than 6,200 square feet, a move that will greatly enhance the company’s per shift output of 25,000 individual salsa and chile jars.

What both announcements had in common beyond a significant level of investment—Keter is spending $36 million to upgrade the Belen site, while Pinto Foods is putting up $7 million for its expanded Albuquerque plant—is the support of New Mexico’s Economic Development Department; in particular, the department’s Local Economic Development Act funds.

LEDA funding, says Matthew Geisel – Secretary of the Economic Development Department - can be spent for variety of purposes for existing and new businesses in New Mexico, including the purchase of “land, the building, and infrastructure.”

The connecting thread in every project is job creation.

With up to $2 million in LEDA funds committed to the Keter Plastics project, the payoff for New Mexico and Belen is 175 new jobs.

El Pinto, with $250,000 in LEDA support, will add 25 more jobs to its metro Albuquerque payroll.

“In the last four years LEDA has been funded with dedicated funding to the tune of around $50 million a year,” says Geisel.

That funding goes for a variety of projects and is designed, in terms of new companies, to make the state more competitive nationally.

Matt Geisler, photo courtesy of Economic Development Department

“We’re fighting against other states that have a lot more resources than us,” says Geisel, who was appointed as head of the department last fall by Governor Susana Martinez after serving as the economic development and business relations manager for the City of Rio Rancho.

Because of what is often intense state-to-state competition, says Geisel, New Mexico in its economic development outreach, “has to be scrappy” and “in a position where we can punch above our weight.”

At the same time, the state economic development department emphasizes helping companies that are already in New Mexico: according to Geisel, some 59 percent of the projects in the current LEDA pipeline are state-based.

How LEDA funds can help a New Mexico company was seen in December with the announcement that Valley Cold Storage and Transportation was investing around $14 million to build a new 105,000 square foot facility in Santa Teresa.

“They’re an offshoot of Mesilla Valley Transportation and the logistics company that is a part of Mesilla Valley Transportation,” explains Geisel.

“So there is a home-grown company that is just getting bigger,” he adds.

In building its new facility, the Las Cruces-based Mesilla Valley Transportation, which received $140,000 in LEDA funding, also has plans to create 33 new jobs.

A unique project announced on January 23 is seeing the Wholesome Valley Farms of Wilmot, Ohio getting up to $620,000 in LEDA funding to build hydroponic greenhouses, seed drying rooms, and cotton seed milling in the southern New Mexico town of Berino.

“This involved a group of investors who came from a real estate background as well as traditional farming,” says Geisel of the Wholesome Valley Farms project.

“They acquired an old abandoned egg production facility that had something like 24 chicken coops on it and had been economically unproductive for about 10 to 12 years,” he adds.

In spending $12 million over the next 5 years to repurpose the Berino site, Wholesome Valley Farms will also create 90 permanent jobs, as well as an additional 90 seasonal positions.

Geisel says New Mexico’s economic development department has a staff of “regional representatives who are the foot soldiers in economic development; they do the unglorified work of meeting with companies in all four corners of the state, talking to them about opportunities to make sure they are aware of them.”

For out-of-state recruitment, the department works with the New Mexico Partnership, a public/private effort designed to market the state nationally.

“We try to be proactive on the outbound side,” says Geisel. “Our website is there, with our phone numbers. People can call me or one of our staff members.”

Geisel says that even if an existing company may not qualify for LEDA funding, there remains an array of other state initiatives that may be used to facilitate businesses both within and outside New Mexico.

He describes those initiatives as “the other tools that are out there.”


By Garry Boulard

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