BELEN — As more and more businesses and industry move into Valencia County and revitalize the area’s economy, they’ll all soon gather together to let the public know who they are and what they can offer. 

The Valencia Trades Conference and Job Fair is set from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 8, at the Belen Business Center, 719 S. Main St.

Steven Tomita, the city of Belen’s planning and economic development manager, has been working with industry and business leaders in planning the event, which he says is the first for the area.

New Mexico Economic Development and Workforce Solutions will present workshop topics, including Valencia County’s emerging economic development, its challenges, the solutions and the economic development forecast.

Tomita said he got the idea for the trades conference during a recent workshop with Albuquerque business leaders and elected officials who were grousing about the lack of international industrial manufacturing companies in the state.

“I stood up and said we have about six or seven international manufacturing industrial companies in Valencia County that work in 20 to 100 countries, including two plastic manufacturers — Keter and Aristech,” Tomita said. “They looked at me dumbfounded. Some of the councilors and representatives said they didn’t know. I told them ‘You didn’t want to know.’”

That’s when Tomita said it was time for this conference, to highlight these companies.

The Belen Economic Development Association began planning the conference, but the members were all associated with other groups, such as the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce, the Belen MainStreet Partnership and Celebrate Belen.

“We all got together and we decided we needed to show what was happening in Valencia County,” he said. “Valencia County is actually leading the state in economic growth.

“We have more activity than anybody has, including Facebook, Keter, Niagara, the rail park (in Los Lunas) — we have a lot going on.”

While Facebook won’t be represented at the conference, representatives from many of the other international and local companies, such as Aristech Surfaces, LLC, Clariant Corp., CEMCO, Inc., Keter Plastics, New Mexico Travertine, Sisneros Brothers, Geomni and Wall Colmonoy, will be present and speaking at the conference.

“Each company will have five minutes to get up to the podium and say who they are and what their company does,” Tomita said.

One of the challenges to be discussed at the conference is the lack of recognition of economic development in Valencia County.

“A lot of international companies are asking why come to New Mexico if they’re going to be the first ones there,” Tomita said. “I explain to Albuquerque Economic Development that when they speak to these companies to let them know that they’re not alone.”

Another challenge Tomita said is the idea he once had that Valencia County didn’t have enough of a workforce for large manufacturing. But Keter has been able to hire 80 employees without problem, and is looking to hire another 75.

In speaking about solutions to economic development, Tomita said each community needs to understand and promote their niche in order to boost the economy.

“Belen is a transportation hub; we have our airport, we have the rail, we have a commuter train all the way to Santa Fe, we have the freeway and we have three exits,” he said. “We’re all based around transportation. That’s our niche.”

Tomita said the future of economic development in Valencia County looks promising, because Valencia County, including Belen and Los Lunas, has established a good working rapport the Albuquerque Economic Development.

“They were instrumental on helping getting Facebook, Keter and the rail park,” he said. “We work very well as a team and we’re not fighting with each other. The support is really good for all of us.”

Along with the trades conference, the event will include a job fair. Tomita encourages people to bring their resumes.

“We know that these companies are hiring,” Tomita said. “The companies and Workforce Solutions will be collecting resumes. They may interview there or they might not.”

For information about the Valencia Trades Conference and Job Fair, email Steven Tomita at steven.tomita@belen-nm.gov.

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