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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: July 28, 2003
Volume 38, Number 24

Córdova involves South Valley residents in economic development vision

By Carolyn Gonzales

Córdova and planning student Javier Benevidez at work.Teresa Córdova, associate professor in the UNM School of Architecture and Planning and director of the school’s Resource Center for Raza Planning (RCRP), looks forward to the groundbreaking of a South Valley small business incubator in September.

“The Resource Center for Raza Planning has been working with the Rio Grande Community Development Corporation since 1996 to bring this kind of economic development into the South Valley. The business incubator and the commercial kitchen and are in direct response to community input,” Córdova said.

Home Economics

The commercial kitchen, part of phase one of the project, could be home to Merlinda Salsa. “Merlinda wants her own canning facility and our hope is that she will use produce – tomatoes, chiles, garlic and onions – grown in the South Valley,” she said.

A thriving growers market exists in Adobe Acres said James Maestas, a Grower’s Market Association board member who is working to establish a second market at Bridge and Isleta.

Córdova and the Resource Center for Raza Planning put together a booklet on basic gardening techniques that Maestas uses with the students. “Teresa and RCRP have provided us with both technical assistance and access to grants from HSIAC [Hispanic Serving Institutions Assisting Communities] that helped support our grassroots activities,” Maestas said. He said that Córdova and RCRP helped the Indo-Hispano Academy identify additional funding sources and to do strategic planning.

“With Teresa’s help, we can compete with major organizations to have access to private and public funding. We will use those resources to help develop the economy in the South Valley,” Maestas said.

Locals aren’t the only ones who see the benefit in RCRP labors.
“The work of the Resource Center for Raza Planning at the University of New Mexico, under the Hispanic Serving Institutions Assisting Communities grant program, exemplifies all that may be accomplished in collaborating with local partners — Rio Grande Development Corporation, South Valley Economic Development Center and others — to offer important services, encourage new businesses, provide jobs and guide students towards better futures,” Madlyn Wohlman-Rodriguez, Office of University Partnerships, U.S. Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD), said.

The second phase of the business incubator will include small manufacturing. “We’re looking at woodworking and metal crafts, perhaps small furniture and retablos as the kind of light manufacturing that could move in during phase two,” Córdova said, adding that a child care facility for workers in the business incubator and training for care providers is slated in the second phase.

Community activist

Córdova is something of a groundbreaker herself. She earned all her degrees in sociology, but moved into community planning because she wanted her research to have real world application.

“My work in community activism has early roots. Maybe I was even born with it. My father instilled in me passion and commitment to community and social responsibility,” she said.

Córdova downplays the role RCRP has played in bringing economic development to the South Valley. “The Rio Grande Community Development Corporation designed the center in conjunction with community desires. We just assist. The South Valley Economic Development Center will strengthen small business activity and self-employment opportunities,” she said.

RCRP was integral in determining what kind of development people in the area wanted. RCRP students, mostly graduate students in Community and Regional Planning within UNM’s School of Architecture and Planning, conducted door-to-door surveys asking residents what they wanted.

Part of the survey determined skills and hobbies the residents possess that might be turned into job opportunities. “We are also looking at youth entrepreneurship and providing learning for life programs using less formal, less intimidating methods. We want to offer mentorship by the community for the community,” she said.

Planning for prosperity

RCRP also helped raise $2.2 million for phase one. “We wrote grants, helped with business and marketing plans as well as an economic development plan. We are currently looking for someone from the community with this expertise to continue the initiative,” she said.

Córdova makes the distinction between typical economic development and the current approach in the South Valley. “Generally, economic developers try to recruit industry to the region. They identify companies and either try to get them to relocate here or open a branch of their operation in the area. We opt to build from within. We want to build capacity from within the community. By creating self-employment opportunities we involve the community in the vision, their vision,” she said.

RCRP has also aided the South Valley by conducting public participation processes for infrastructure projects such as a water system, road improvements, drainage and sewer.

“Key to our involvement is the challenge to bring engineers, subcontractors and Public Works into public participation. We wanted to ensure that community voices were heard and that the forum was open for thoughts and opinions to be heard. It is an art to facilitate those discussions,” she said. RCRP also placed phone calls, maintained mailing lists and sent out newsletters to people in the area.

“The final project design is a great reflection of that dialogue. Engineers who were initially nervous about the process saw the benefit in it. Follow up, follow through is key,” she said. “We do what we can for the community so people know what’s going on and are a part of the process.”