Official under fire for remarks
December 18, 2019
The executive director of the Greater Tucumcari Economic Development Corp. and several attendees at the board’s Dec. 10 meeting criticized Tucumcari city commissioner Ralph Moya for his statements in a candidate questionnaire to the Quay County Sun before the Nov. 5 election.
The comments by Moya, who did not attend the meeting, prompted placement on the meeting’s agenda. The EDC’s executive director, two of Moya’s fellow city commissioners, the Arch Hurley Conservancy District’s manager and Mesalands Community College’s president rapped his remarks.
Moya responded in October in writing to this question — “What prompted you to run?” — in a Quay County Sun election candidate questionnaire by noting “most of our hard work and effort was gone” during his previous tenure as city commissioner and mayor during the 1980s and early ‘90s.
What sparked ire from EDC meeting attendees was this highlighted passage: “These are some of the examples of what I left intact that were supposed to be spinoff industries for growth: a) trucking firms, $2 million payroll, GONE; b) railroad, GONE; c) most retail and grocery stores, GONE; d) a lot of empty homes. …”
Moya also stated several projects in the city are left unfinished: “Princess Theatre project, which was supposed to be renovated, GONE. Tucumcari Lake project was on its way to make it a bird sanctuary with walking trials and a tourist attraction, GONE.”
EDC executive director Patrick Vanderpool and Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield said some of Moya’s criticisms — the disappearance of a railroad stop and several national retailers and employers — are not applicable to city leadership because it has no control over such corporate decisions.
Litchfield also bristled over Princess Theatre criticism, noting the building received a new roof a few years ago. An individual associated with Meow Wolf in Santa Fe recently stated his desire to redevelop the historic property.
City commissioner Christopher Arias said Moya’s remarks were “bullcrap” and contained “deceiving information.”
Franklin McCasland, manager of Arch Hurley, said development of Tucumcari Lake has been “handcuffed” for many years because a lawsuit settlement requires the district to keep water levels from exceeding a certain level. However, he said recent meetings with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and Ducks Unlimited to redevelop the lake made him optimistic those legal mandates can be resolved.
Mesalands Community College President John Groesbeck dismissed Moya’s statements as “politics” by “someone who wants to be re-elected.”
An email to Moya last week requesting a comment was not returned.
In other business by the board:
• Citing Site Selection magazine, Vanderpool said the local workforce was the most critical factor for companies’ site selections in 2019. He said prospective firms aren’t looking at the local jobless rate as much as the skills of the workforce.
Other factors, listed by order of importance, were transportation infrastructure, available buildings and sites, state and local taxes, regulatory environment, incentives, utilities, university and college resources, and real estate costs.
Those at the meeting who spoke graded the quality of Tucumcari’s work force no higher than five on a scale to 10. Many manufacturers also are hiring college graduates because they have greater overall skills, Vanderpool said.
Tucumcari may appear to have a high transportation infrastructure because of Interstate 40 and U.S. 54. However, the Union Pacific Railroad doesn’t stop at Tucumcari any more. In response to a question, Quay County manager Richard Primrose said the railroad wouldn’t stop in Tucumcari unless it has a spur — which would cost millions of dollars to build — and 100 railcars to be dropped off or picked up.
Citing an Employment and Economic Center of New Mexico study of seven northeastern counties, including Quay, the region boasted a low crime rate, high racial diversity and a high percentage of veterans. On the negative, the region holds a lower-than-average number of millennials and a higher percentage of people who soon will retire.
Vanderpool said two possibilities for future job growth in the region are outdoor recreation — especially with the state’s recent commitment to boost tourism in that sector — and metal fabrication.
Summing up Tucumcari’s challenges to draw employers, Vanderpool said: “It doesn’t mean it can’t be done; it means we have work to do.”
• Vanderpool talked about the North East Economic Development Organization’s small-town grocery workshop in Las Vegas in October. The workshop aimed to keep rural communities from becoming “food deserts.”
Vanderpool said while dollar stores in small towns offer canned and boxed foods and some dairy, they lack fresh produce and meat. He talked about Mountainair, which established the B Street Market after several residents tired of driving out of town to get groceries. The Crown City Market in Corona was launched for similar reasons.
He said such initiatives might create an opportunity for the Tucumcari-based Table Top Co-op, a land-access initiative for beginning farmers.
Vanderpool also said small-town groceries also can supplement their income with selling legal hemp and cannabis oil.
• Vanderpool discussed the South Valley Economic Development Center’s Mixing Bowl and Socorro County Chamber of Commerce’s Community Kitchen as examples of what can be done with a publicly available commercial kitchen for small food producers. A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture can be used to buy the needed equipment.
• Several attendees talked about bringing more television and movie productions to Tucumcari. Citing a recent meeting with state Sen. Pete Campos, Vanderpool said Tucumcari almost needs someone full-time at the state’s film office “to get their attention” and attract producers and film scouts. Groesbeck noted such a local position probably needs to be at the county level.
• Phillip Box said the region has “a lack of vision” to draw young people to the region. Connie Loveland, executive director of Tucumcari MainStreet, agreed with the need for “a consistent vision of the town.” Attendees noted some young people are moving to Tucumcari; others are reluctant to come because of the lack of high-paying jobs but often overlook the town’s lower property values than in urban areas.