This vacant building at 22 El Cerro Loop will soon be the home of the Valencia County business incubator, which will be available for entrepreneurs throughout the county.
Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo

A business incubator to help fledgling businesses and entrepreneurs throughout Valencia County is one step closer to being a reality.

At the Feb. 18 VALEO meeting — the Valencia Association of Local Elected Officials — village of Los Lunas economic development manager Ralph Mims and members of the board of directors for the incubator project briefed a handful of local elected officials on its progress in securing a location and funding for the project.

Spearheaded by the village of Los Lunas and city of Rio Communities, the proposed incubator will be open for anyone in the county, Mims said.

“It’s important for our small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs to stay in Valencia County and grow jobs and, eventually, go into brick and mortar (locations),” Mims said. “When this gets going, it will be the only rural incubator in New Mexico.”

The board for the incubator project is closing in on getting it’s nonprofit, 501c3 status finalized, said board president Ben Romero.

“Everything was filed last week and we should have all the documents from the Secretary of State this week,” Romero said. “Then the attorney will send that to the IRS, so hopefully in about a month.”

Until the organization is granted federal 501c3 status, it cannot accept funding or donations, Mims said.

In preparation for that, the board has located a building for the incubator at 22 El Cerro Loop. The building sits on the ‘L’ shaped portion of the loop that connects Main Street in Los Lunas to N.M. 47, before continuing east and connects to Meadow Lake Road.

While it has a Los Lunas address, the 4,000 square foot building is actually in an unincorporated part of the county, board treasurer/secretary Kekoa Gonzales said.

The building is divided into two, 2,000 square foot spaces, Gonzales, which will allow the incubator to start small and grow into the additional space.

“This space is beautiful to put in offices, then, what we’ll be growing into, a hybrid incubator with some kind of kitchen incubator,” Gonzales said. “It has the power and water resources we need. It’s accessible to everyone and has great parking.”

Gonzales said the board anticipates the incubator growing out of the building in a fairly short amount of time.

“We will use it as a resource and grow out of it, just like the businesses will,” he said.

The concept of a county wide business incubator surfaced about three years ago and with the assistance of Russell Combs, the managing director of IOTA — Incubation Operations, Training and Applications — feasibility study was competed in January 2018.

The study found a small business incubator is feasible in Valencia County, especially in the area of edible products. It indicated the county would need a mixed use, kitchen incubator.

“We see a real need to have this,” Mims said. “We want to grow the economy here in Valencia County, keep our young people in county who want to be rising entrepreneurs. They are the future of Valencia County.”

Combs joined the meeting via phone and said funding for the incubator can come from a variety of sources, including the users themselves, local industry, philanthropists, patrons and businesses, federal sources, such as the USDA and from local banks using the Community Reinvestment Act.

CRA funds come from legislation from the late 1950s that mandates any bank in the U.S. with a certain dollar amount in activity in a given region return some of their profits back into the community customer base.

“Banks want to fund entrepreneurial projects,” Combs said. “This is a good opportunity for them.”

The incubator has an initial estimated commencement budget of $169,500, he said, which includes the costs of legal fees to start the corporation, lease of the building, utilities, salaries for a director and part-time administrative assistant and other operational costs.

While the project doesn’t have funding yet, Combs said it has received verbal commitment from various groups individuals totaling about $100,000.

“We have none of that and I want to reiterate … there are still a lot of steps but that commitment looks very strong,” he said.

The incubator will be available to any person in any community in the county, Mims emphasized.

“Any aspiring person can use it,” he said.

Chris Garcia, with the Los Lunas Small Business Development Center, said the organization would be teaming up with the incubator to get its clients one-on-one business consultations SBDC is known for. The incubator is also partnering with The University of New Mexico’s Lobo Rainforest business incubator.

“We will have space with classrooms and offer training a few times a week,” Gonzales said. “This project gets me super pumped. I think this is going to change a lot of lives.”

Elected officials who attended the VALEO meeting included Valencia County Commissioner Tom Mraz, Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego and Councilor Cruz Munoz, and Rio Communities Councilors Peggy Gutjahr and Bill Brown.

The next VALEO meeting will be Tuesday, May 19, in Rio Communities.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.