RIO COMMUNITIES — As the youngest municipality in Valencia County, Rio Communities officials have been working on different aspects of growing the city in the past 10 years, including economic development.
Rio Communities City Manager Martin Moore, PhD, told governing body the city’s economic development’s task force has been working since the middle of 2022 to identify areas of possible need and opportunity.
“(Three) of the things we are focusing on is housing, retail and professional sectors,” Moore said. “I know there are other efforts going on, such as manufacturing sectors, but this particular effort speaks directly to quality of life for our residents.”
Moore said the city is hoping to attract a supermarket to Rio Communities, as well as a pharmacy and some sort of automotive services, such as high-end recreational vehicles.
Rio Communities has historically been a destination for recreational vehicles, and the city manager hopes of a business specializing in the industry will be advantageous to the city for outdoor recreation.
“We also recognize the asset that we have, and the importance of improving the appearance of our city,” he said. “We have been making efforts in our clean up, and code enforcement has been working. We have seen progress of the city in a number of areas. We know it’s a start — we’re not finished and we have a long way to go.”
The task force members have also discussed the city’s strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities to bring in retail, as well as any types of threats to economic development, such as safety and protecting property.
“These are types of things that investors or customers might look at and might say, ‘It might be in our way,’” the city manager said. “What can the city do to overcome some of these challenges?”
Moore said the task force has identified infrastructure as a high priority for Rio Communities. There are currently 5,000 platted residential lots in the city and, of those, only 300 have the ability to tie into utilities.
The commercial area on the east side of N.M. 47 in Rio Communities has basic utility services, but needs to be upgraded for future economic development, the manager said.
Another area of improvement is working with the private sector, such as approaching investors who might be willing to build retail space, in particular start-up businesses.
“We’ve been working with the Valencia County Business Incubator, and we continue to work with them to be a success, which, in turn, builds our success,” Moore said of the incubator, which is housed in the Rio Communities multi-purpose city hall complex.
The VCBI is currently working with eight clients, with others on a waiting list. Moore said some of these start-up business owners will be successful, and will need a place to go permanently.
“Whether it’s us improving internet service by bringing in fiber, or if they need to move into a store front, we need to plan and pull together the infrastructure,” Moore said. “When we’re going after funding to make economic development happen, they want to know we have a plan for it.”
The city manager said Rio Communities needs to build a track record of success with economic development, much like they have with completing grant projects.
“Now we are proving ourselves to a new audience — private investors and private foundations,” he said. “We are speaking to new audiences.”
Ralph Mims, the city’s economic development consultant, has continued to advise the city to market Rio Communities not only within New Mexico, but nationwide. Moore said it’s important to get the city known and what it can offer.
Other tools the city can utilize for economic development include creating incentives for businesses through the Local Economic Development Act retail-type ordinance, which the city has adopted.
“The next step beyond that is an economic development plan,” Moore said. “The city does have an economic development plan ordinance, so we have a foundation on which to build.
“We need to update the plan, and take the information to the planning and zoning commission to fill in any information they want to add into the comprehensive plan.”
In the meantime, Rio Communities will continue with the next steps of economic development, such as putting together necessary infrastructure. Moore said there are areas of town that are ready to develop, which need to be marketed.
“This has been a significant effort to get to where we are at this point,” the city manager said. “This is the beginning, not an end. This is not a product to be put on a shelf. It’s a living document that’s going to be feeding itself.
“Our next step will be getting information together to share with the public, with businesses, retail sectors and investors,” Moore said. “Now, the real work starts.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.