When Chevron Mining announced that the Questa mine would close in 2014, both the Village of Questa and Chevron knew they had to step up their game.
Since 2008, the village had made efforts to diversify its economy away from a molybdenum mining town toward tourism. However, it had been somewhat of a “scatter-shot” approach, according to Mayor Mark Gallegos. The 2014 closure recharged the effort.
“Before, it was more or less a concept,” Gallegos said. “But we didn’t get much done. We were having growing pains trying to diversify from the mine, and we needed professional help from the outside, a new perspective.”
To that end, Chevron re-upped its annual $320,000 “seed money” contribution for another eight years — through 2023 — into the non-profit Questa Economic Development Fund (QEDF) that was set up in 2008 and provided an extra $1 million for the organization’s endowment fund. And, the energy company kicked in an additional $500,000 to develop a full-blown economic development plan and hire a full-time professional executive director to oversee project implementation and outreach.
Developed by Petroglyphs on the Río Grande, the plan was completed in 2015 and economic development veteran Philippe Chino was hired. With these in place, the fund’s board got together and began to lay out priorities for projects to truly diversify the economy of Questa. And, it could now legitimately go for grant monies to pay for projects.
“We now have a decent idea for the direction we want to go in Questa,” said Malaquais Rael, former mayor and chairman of the QEDF. “We are focusing more, we have real traction. With input from the community, we can invest in what we have. And, with some recent successes already, we can look at options in a new, more measured way.”
The board has developed a four-pronged strategy for economic development: recreation, business attraction and retention, agriculture, and arts and culture. They created a timeline and began applying for grants. Plus, knowing that time is of the essence, they’ve put five projects into play already:
Red River Restoration. In conjunction with Trout Unlimited of New Mexico and state Game & Fish, crews restored fish habitats on a section behind newly dredged Eagle Rock Lake. Another section below the lake will be restored next.
Questa Business Park. A partnership of the QEDF, the village, the New Mexico Economic Development Department and Taos Mountain Energy Bar has resulted in relocation of the energy bar company to the park just north of downtown. Additional funding will be sought to finish off infrastructure in order to attract more businesses.
Barley Pilot Project. Once, Questa provided barley to Coors. Now, the village is looking to produce the grain again, this time for the burgeoning craft brewing industry in New Mexico and beyond. Two test plots were planted this spring, and officials hope the protein levels will demonstrate high quality barley. There’s also talk of a malting facility to process the barley.
Visitor Center. The village is joining with BLM, the Forest Service and others to develop a plan for a multi-agency visitor center in the center of town. Village officials see the newly renovated San Antonio del Río Colorado Catholic Church as one anchor for tourism.
“Questa is open for business,” said Rael. “The barley project is exciting and, for me, there are lots of agricultural opportunities in Questa and north of town. Remember: Before there was mining, there was agriculture in Questa.”
QEDF Executive Director Chino believes that Questa is meeting the challenges that other municipalities have experienced, and the move from a “mono-industry town” has been spurred by a sense of urgency once the mine closed for good.
“We are presenting to funding agencies the same type of economic development that a town of 50,000 or 100,000 population will have,” said Chino.
Mayor Gallegos said that combination of community involvement, QEDF, Chevron, influential legislators in Santa Fe and professional leadership will create a bright future for the village.
“We’ve gotten away from the narrow-minded approach of the past and opened up a new future for Questa,” said the mayor. “The fund will allow the village to leverage potential opportunities for new businesses, tourism and agriculture.”
“If you provide opportunity, the opportunists will come out,” said Rael. “The success of the fund will come when money follows the solid planning and strong organization.
“Success breeds success,” Rael concluded
Guiding Principles for Economic Development
These principles will help the village map out the best path forward to a “sustainable and diverse post-mining economy.”
Local. Economic development balances the need for growth with the desire for social and cultural continuity. The strategies presented in this document focus on maximizing local participation and protecting traditional values in all activities.
Leveraged. The Village and QEDF have limited resources. To maximize Chevron’s existing phased seed capitalization, development strategies necessarily focus on opportunities and programs that can activate other sources of capital, resources and support.
Well-Managed. Economic development responsibilities in Questa are split between the village and QEDF. Strategies include a well-defined delineation of roles to ensure clear and transparent leadership as the plan moves successfully from paper to practice.
Participatory. The strategies put forth in this plan are created with community participation and include steps to maintain this engagement during implementation.
Sustainable. Sustainable development reflects the ability of the community to adjust to the social and economic needs of its residents while preserving the environment’s ability to support it so that these initiatives can continue into the future on their own.
Source: Questa Economic Development Strategy
Questa Economic Development Fund
P.O. Box 1072
Questa, NM 87556
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