State Sen. Pete Campos has a dream for the future of New Mexico and he is asking New Mexico State University for help in achieving it.
The New Mexico Senator for District 8 in northern New Mexico approached the land-grant university with a desire to improve the economy of the state.
The concept, which came from Campos’ meeting with NMSU President John Floros, is a three-year pilot project to establish Agribusiness Accelerators in three regions of the state.
“I had full confidence that our land-grant university would rise to the occasion with a concept to help our economy and young people,” said Campos, a former educator and superintendent of Las Vegas City Schools, and former chief executive officer of Luna Community College in Las Vegas.
The three regions targeted for the pilot program are Northeast, including Union, Colfax, Mora, Harding and San Miguel counties; Northwest; including San Juan, McKinley and Cibola counties; and East Central, including Quay, Guadalupe, De Baca and Torrance counties.
The Agribusiness Accelerators project is guided by planning completed by the regions as part of the Stronger Economies Together (SET) initiative, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development initiative in partnership with the nation’s land-grant institutions.
“The SET program seeks to address economic development challenges rural communities face by encouraging, facilitating and supporting efforts to design and implement multi-county economic development plans and projects that strategically build on current and emerging economic strengths of the region,” said Michael Patrick, NMSU Extension specialist in economic development.
“When we looked at the SET plans for the regions a common term appeared – agribusiness accelerator,” said Kathy Hansen, NMSU’s Arrowhead Center director. “There were common concerns – challenges of local food scarcity, starting up value-added businesses and training a future workforce.”
The only thing holding back the SET regional plans was lack of money and facilitators to drive the projects forward.
Campos assisted with the need for financial support by introducing Senate Bill 257 in the New Mexico Legislature in January for appropriations of $1.4 million from the general fund to establish the Agribusiness Accelerators in the three regions.
“The appropriation piece will be included in House Bill 2, the general appropriations act,” Campos said. “We are not really sure what the monetary level will be because the Legislature has many needs to consider.”
The collective effort among NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service and Arrowhead Center will facilitate the project as it meets the three goals.
“Our goals are to increase the supply and accessibility of local produced food, increase value-added agribusiness activity and foster entrepreneurship, business development and job creation in the regions,” Hansen said.
The first goal will address on-the-ground food production challenges throughout the regions.
“The proposed activities will include the creation of small farm incubators in each region for new farmers, on-site training and mentoring for current farmers and producers,” Patrick said. “These incubator farms will resemble the Bernalillo County ‘Grow the Grower’ program.”
The second goal will focus on supplying a support system for value-added agribusiness to start, grow and thrive.
“Accelerator programs will be established in each region where mentors from a pool of Arrowhead’s Enterprise Advisor network, and NMSU faculty and staff will help new and existing agribusiness enterprises with idea development, customer discovery, product development, marketing and continued support,” Hansen said.
The third strategy will support another group of stakeholders – students – through existing NMSU entrepreneurial programming.
“The proposed activities include delivery of a dual-credit high school entrepreneurship course, summer camps for middle school students and extracurricular programs for K-12,” Hansen said. “Also, Arrowhead Center’s college student business incubator, Studio G, will be expanded to address the unique needs and challenges students face as they try to start a business.”
Campos said the key to the regional and state economic future is the entrepreneurial programming.
“The true meaning of life is how we prepare the next generation to keep moving in a very positive direction,” Campos said. “There is going to be great care as we cultivate the future of our young people’s success. We want to show them that there is a way for their creative ideas to come alive and allow them to support a family wherever they choose to live, especially if it is rural New Mexico.”
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