Last week, the Chamber’s New Mexico Roadrunners took their second tour across the state, this time visiting northwest New Mexico. The New Mexico Roadrunners are goodwill ambassadors representing Albuquerque’s business community who travel twice per year to different regions of the state to meet with local businesses, chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, elected and appointed officials, and community leaders.
“The goal of the New Mexico Roadrunners is to build strong relationships throughout New Mexico, learn about important issues and local concerns, and build a broader advocacy coalition in support of our shared mission: to make our state a great place to start and grow a business and a safe, exciting place to work and raise a family,” said Roadrunners Chair Dr. Cheryl Willman, CEO of the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center.
More than 30 Albuquerque business leaders joined the overnight trip that included stops in Gallup, the Navajo Nation, Farmington, and Chaco Canyon. Along the way, they were treated to the unique culture, food, and attractions of Northwest New Mexico, while meeting with influential local leaders, including mayors, state legislators, and even the Navajo Nation President.
On the way to the first stop in Gallup, the Roadrunners heard from PNM’s Matthew Jaramillo about the recently-passed Energy Transition Act, which sets aggressive zero-carbon energy production goals for the state, while also authorizing a financial mechanism for retiring the coal plants in San Juan County in a responsible way that aims to protect ratepayers and help workers in northwest New Mexico transition into new types of employment.
Upon reaching Gallup, the Roadrunners had the opportunity to hear from State Representative and Chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee Patty Lundstrom and State Senator and member of the Senate Finance Committee George Muñoz on the fiscal outlook for New Mexico and economic development challenges in the Gallup area. Representative Lundstrom spoke at length about the importance of infrastructure investments – particularly roads – in the northwest part of the state, while Senator Muñoz spoke about the need to diversify the state’s economy and criticized the Legislature’s recent decision to raise taxes on families and small businesses. Gallup Mayor Jackie McKinney, a longtime businessman, joined the Roadrunners for lunch at Sammy C’s and delivered an exuberant presentation about the uniqueness of the Gallup area (and his hopes for its future).
From Gallup, the Roadrunners traveled to Window Rock, AZ to visit the seat of the Navajo Nation’s sovereign government, visiting the famous arch that gives the region its name — Tségháhoodzání, or Window Rock — before visiting a memorial to the famous Navajo Code Talkers of WWII. The Roadrunners were provided a tour of the Navajo Nation’s Council Chambers and heard about the rich history of the Navajo people before meeting with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, who outlined his plans for economic development on the Navajo Nation.
The Roadrunners then made the 2-hour trek to Farmington, where they were warmly greeted by George Sharpe of Merrion Oil & Gas and treated to a lively presentation about the future of oil and gas production in the San Juan Basin and the need to continue oil and gas extraction – safely and responsibly – while we make what is expected to be a lengthy transition to additional sources of energy. Hilcorp Energy official Michelle Ahlm also briefed the group on Hilcorp’s strategy of buying legacy wells in the San Juan Basin, in an effort to reinvigorate energy production in the northwest part of the state that had significantly slowed in recent years.
After a long day of meetings, the Roadrunners shared an incredible meal at the downtown Chile Pod restaurant in Farmington with Mayor Nate Duckett, Four Corners Economic Development officials, the Farmington Chamber of Commerce, and other local leaders. Their hospitality was tremendous, and Mayor Duckett passionately spoke to the Roadrunners about Farmington’s efforts to transition toward a regional outdoor activity economy in the Four Corners area, which boasts incredible rivers, lakes, trails, rock formations, and other natural assets that have not been marketed strategically or prominently in the past.
The second day of the tour kicked off with a tour of part of the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (NAPI) farmland, the largest continuous farmland in the country. NAPI managers led the group through the control room that controls the irrigation of the entire tract and through a blossoming green chile plot.
On the way to Chaco Canyon, the Roadrunners heard from Superintendent Eugene Schmidt and Board President Kyle Rhodes from Farmington Public Schools as well as Amanda Aragon from the state education policy advocacy organization NMKidsCAN about the remarkable academic progress students and schools in Farmington and Gallup have made in recent years. By embracing the rigorous use of data to guide instruction and interventions, setting high standards and expectations for every classroom and school, and prioritizing strong school leadership, Farmington Public Schools, for example, has raised its reading proficiency rates by 15 percentage points since 2015 and is now the highest-performing large school district in the state (recently passing Rio Rancho). Board President Rhodes, the CEO of a Farmington energy supply company, pointedly stated during his presentation: “It’s about improving the academic achievement of our kids. If you have any other agenda than that, then you don’t belong on a (School) Board.”
Finally, the Roadrunners were treated to a guided tour of Pueblo Bonito, the largest remaining structure at Chaco Canyon, before returning to Albuquerque after a packed two-day schedule.
For more information on participating in future New Mexico Roadrunners trips in New Mexico, please contact Heather McDaniel at (505) 764-3771 or at [email protected].