June 21, 2008

MVEDA Reaches Out for Business

By Brook Stockberger, Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.

Jun. 21--LAS CRUCES -- When he was recently in Huntsville, Ala., -- a city that bills itself "Rocket City" -- Steve Vierck said he received a mixed message.

"They know White Sands (Missile Range) because they do a lot of testing here," said Vierck, president and CEO of the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance. "But many of them associate White Sands with El Paso. What we've got to do is emphasize the geography lesson: We're in southern New Mexico. We're right across the mountains."

Vierck was part of a group that included Spaceport America director Steve Landeene who traveled to Huntsville earlier this month to promote Dona Ana County among the companies and government entities that have a strong presence there.

The Huntsville area is home to the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal.

This was not the first time Vierck had made the trip to Alabama and he said, while some folks there do not know much about our area -- he said overall name recognition for the Las Cruces area is still low -- he did find people who are paying a lot more attention.

He said he spoke with people who followed the news of Sierra County's passing of the sales tax in April aimed

at helping to fund the spaceport.

"A couple (of people) were remarkably well up to speed with what is going on with the spaceport, which is a good sign," Vierck said.

"They're pretty much in tune with what is going on in the rocket business.

"Some of those companies do software development and safety analysis and they had a lot of interest in how the spaceport is progressing," he said.

MVEDA will soon wrap up its fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30. Vierck has been with the organization since 2002 and said it is poised to finish the current fiscal year in good shape.

"It's been a good year for us, particularly from a job-generation standpoint," he said.

In addition to the trip to Alabama, MVEDA set its sights on trying to attract more companies to Dona Ana County, helping ones already here expand and recognizing business sectors the group would like to pursue.

Creating jobs

"The core of what we're trying to do is help find quality employment opportunities for people in the region," Vierck said.

Fred Shepherd, business development manager of MVEDA, said that whenever a company does relocate or expand into Dona Ana County, it helps build momentum.

For example, D.A. Inc. started to gear up a factory location in Santa Teresa earlier this year and held a ribbon-cutting ceremony this month at its 67,000-square-foot facility in the Verde Logistics Park.

"That piques the curiosity of other companies," he said.

The D.A. Inc. project is supposed to produce as many 50 new jobs with an average annual salary of $30,282.

Still, that kind of positive news must be actively marketed.

"It's the same as in sales. In sales, they say, 'If an individual has a bad experience, they'll tell 10 people. If they have a good experience, they're going to tell just one or two.' So we have to help share that news."

MVEDA reports that it anticipates the fiscal year to end with more than 700 new jobs created. MVEDA's labor numbers reflect a company's hiring projections over a three-year period.

"We've never been over 600 before," Vierck said.

A pair of customer support centers alone have accounted for nearly 500 of those jobs. VMC/Volt opened a customer contact center that provides customer support for Apple, and projects to hire as many as 238 employees while a new Allstate Insurance center expects to hire about 265.

Looking ahead

Renewable energy is an area Vierck said MVEDA is likely to target.

"It is an area that we have strong competitive advantages in and an area that is growing rapidly," he said. "It's an area that generally involves a substantial amount of technology."

One company that already has a presence in Las Cruces is Precision Wind.

Las Cruces businessman James Stalker made a presentation at a Job Training Incentive Program's board meeting in Santa Fe last year and got funding approval for three junior positions.

The company reports that it wants to "continuously drive improvements in the reliability and affordability of wind energy."

Vierck pointed out that southern New Mexico is also an obvious location for solar energy.

Shepherd said the state has made headway in attracting solar interests.

"The state brought in Schott Solar up in Albuquerque area, and a whole lot of folks were asking. 'Why?'" he said.

"It was a big win. That's one reason we've had so many solar projects looking at the state. Companies are asking, 'What brought them to New Mexico? What enticed them?' So now they are coming in and looking around."

Vierck said MVEDA has been in contact with companies from "virtually every major segment in the renewable energy field."

In the 2004-05 fiscal year, MVEDA had just one renewable energy prospect. This past year there were eight. And renewable energy companies will attract complementary industries, he said.

"There are the facilities that actually generate power using renewable energy, but what we have discovered is that there is also a large market to serve as home for companies that make the equipment that goes into these plants that make renewable power," Vierck said.

"Like the glass mirrors for solar and the making of wind turbines."

Brook Stockberger can be reached at [email protected]


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