Attracting and retaining business

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If you’re a new business person, Rhona Baca-Espinoza, executive director of the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce, and Stephanie Flynn, of the Los Lunas Chamber of Commerce, are people you want to know in Valencia County.

And if you’re an existing business owner, you probably want to know them, too.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: THE LOS MORROS BUSINESS PARK in Los Lunas, which includes the Walmart Distribution Center, along with the Belen Business Park are two examples of encouraging business investment in Valencia County.

Both Baca Espinoza and Flynn said their focus is helping new business owners, supporting all businesses in the county and providing support for business people in ways ranging from giving them with advice on how to plan and execute business plans all the way to getting the word out and attracting customers.

Baca Espinoza and Flynn both said they work quite a bit with the Small Business Development Center at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus as well as groups such as ACCION, which provides low-interest loans to small business owners starting up.

“We provide those kinds of resources and information to the businesses that want to come to the area or have just started,” said Baca Espinoza. “When we get a business that just started up, what we do is go visit the business and welcome them to the community.”

Flynn said she follows a similar protocol in Los Lunas and also works with the village’s economic Development department.

“We try to help the local businesses that have questions regarding anything to guide them towards,” Flynn said.

The village of Los Lunas itself offers many incentives, such as property tax abatement and the New Mexico Investment Credit, which offers a credit for manufacturers.

Both chambers offer services such as their websites, monthly newsletters and email blasts to get the word out about business, as well as monthly networking events.

The Belen chamber also offers space to help promote local businesses at events such as Rio Abajo Days, Baca Espinoza said.

She emphasized that while the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce includes large companies such as BNSF, Wells Fargo and PNM, its 300 members largely come from the ranks of smaller business.

“Who we really work for are mom-and-pop stores,” Baca Espinoza said. “We’re really working to help them make it because it’s a critical time of three years (small businesses’) have to make it in.”

Flynn said the chambers’ monthly luncheons, while seemingly extraneous, are actually one of the greatest resources offered by either chamber of commerce.

“The luncheons are great in that they allow people to network,” she said. “Having that chance to network with each is a other great opportunity in that they can meet on a personal level instead of just a business level. Luncheons are very important, I don’t think businesses take as much advantage as they should.”

Baca Espinoza also touted resources available to all business people in the area, not just chamber members — a link to the “Tools for Business Success” page on the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce website, www.belenchamber.com, which she called “one of the greatest tools we provide to everyone.

“It gives you all the tools that you need to be in business in the greater Belen area,” she said. “It lists what kind of risks business owners must be willing to take, advice on what sort of business you should have — LLC, a corporation, all the different types of businesses there are.

“It also has all the updated forms you need to do business in the state. It really is a one-stop shop for business owners.”

While neither chamber recruits large corporations to come to the area, both work with businesses to help them get established in the community.

Baca Espinoza touted a new Little Ceasar’s Pizza franchise and the Home Smart home appliance and furniture rental store on Main Street in Belen as examples of bigger national brand businesses that have come to Belen recently.

Flynn mentioned the new Applebee’s restaurant being built on Main Street in Los Lunas.

Both said they feel very optimistic about business growth in the coming years in Valencia County.

“The Rio Abajo area between Albuquerque and Socorro is one of the best places to live in the country,” said Baca Espinoza. “We have some of the best people ― the best food. We’re the best kept secret. But we don’t want to be a secret anymore.”

Like Baca Espnioza, David Blacher touts the area as one with business potential.

Blacher, the president of the Greater Belen Economic Development Corporation, said the area has possibilities that have not been tapped.

Blacher said “lack of will” from area politicians is holding back serious development, particularly the city of Belen’s lack of an updated land-use plan. But he sees positives as well, once the political aspects of business development can be navigated.

“Belen has great potential from the Industrial Park on the east side to the Sisneros property on the west side,” he said. “There’s lots of in-fill in the middle of the city. But as long as it’s allowed to decay, it’s harder to bring it back.”

In terms of bringing larger-scale business into the area, Baca Espnioza said local manufacturing companies, such as Cemco and Aristech Acryllics, are actively taking the case to fellow manufacturers across the country, selling Valencia County as an area that could fill their needs.

Blacher said Cemco is also working with UNM-VC to develop a course to teach the technical skills required for working in manufacturing, which should address one of the needs for larger businesses in Valencia County, namely the lack of workers with manufacturing skills.

Blacher also said the GBEDC has been working with BNSF and the Rancho Cielo development group to identify an area for an inter-modal railroad facility outside of Belen.

According to Blacher, the facility could transform Belen as it would change from being merely a hub, where trains refuel, to an area where trains are redirected to places such as Dallas and Denver.

“It would allow the greater Albuquerque district to become a huge distribution community, like what we have with the Walmart Distribution site in Los Lunas, with a greater incentive for more distributions,” he said.

The resulting increase in support businesses and need for housing could be a boon. However, the city’s lack of an updated land-use plan is holding the project back, said Blacher.

Blacher said Belen should look at the development Los Lunas has made in the past 15 years, with areas such as the Los Morros Business Park, as a guide. He pointed out that while Los Lunas made good use in identifying available land and developing it, the village still has infrastructure limitations that Belen does not.

Belen needs affordable housing, Blacher said. Developing that would increase business as people would spend money on goods and services, as well as adding students to the school system potentially.

But all of that resides on the will of the community’s leaders to take action.

“Someone’s got to be willing to take risks,” Blacher said. “Now is the time to position the community and take a few risks.”