COMMENTARY: New Mexico is already one of the best places to live in our country. But if you’ve read a newspaper, tuned into the news or have listened to what people are saying in the coffee shop, you know things aren’t going well for all our neighbors.
Poverty is on the rise, the economy is crawling along, there aren’t enough good paying jobs to keep young New Mexicans here, and the quality of life in many of our communities falls short of expectations.
That’s why we started a nonprofit project called Grow New Mexico. We know that there are good projects and good people out there who want to move their communities forward. But too often they are missing the funds or expertise to advance those impactful projects. And sometimes they just need a little help putting the finishing touches on their vision for a sustainable economic future.
That’s frustrating because we know there is substantial funding through government, the private sector and foundations to finance worthwhile projects. We’ve both held senior positions in government and watched programs pass New Mexico by.
Terry Brunner was the state director for Rural Development at the United States Department of Agriculture and Phil Schiliro is a former special advisor to President Obama. In our interactions with government and private entities over the past several years, we’ve watched funding streams miss New Mexico time and again.
Looking at federal funds alone, New Mexico doesn’t receive community development funds at the same levels as other states. Over the past five years, The United States Treasury Department awarded New Mexico $115 million in Community Development Financial Institution funds to help finance worthy community development projects. During the same period, Montana received double that amount, Arizona received triple that amount, and Mississippi received four times that amount.
The United States Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) makes funds available for job training, homelessness, veterans housing and a wide variety of other community-development related work. But over the past three years, New Mexico has never received more than 1 percent of HUD’s discretionary funds.
There are at least three reasons why New Mexico has fallen behind other states in obtaining needed funding. First, there is a lack of information filtering into New Mexico communities on funding programs and how they work. Second, New Mexico communities and organizations may not have the experienced grant writers, financial or administrative staff to apply and comply with available grant and loan programs. Third, the great project ideas being developed locally in our state aren’t reaching the ears of relevant funders.
At Grow New Mexico we’ll be working with communities and nonprofits to help them improve their chances of accessing the funding they need for their projects. Our congressional delegation — led by Senators Udall and Heinrich — already do a terrific service by identifying possible federal grants. There is tremendous potential to turn that information into completed projects and stronger communities around New Mexico.
We’ve teamed up with The Grants Collective in Albuquerque to bring in its Talent Academy, which offers professional development to community grant writers, and its Cooperative Network that provides a place to collaborate and share wisdom and resources that build capacity to seek needed funds.
Communities that are able to build a new hospital, institute a new child development program or increase internet access know the dramatic impact those projects can have on their quality of life. We want communities all across our state to feel that same impact, many times over.
We have ground to make up to catch up to some of our neighboring states, but all the ingredients are already here to do that quickly. We’ve started Grow New Mexico to help all New Mexico communities do just that.
Terry Brunner is Grow New Mexico’s chief program officer. Phil Schiliro is its senior advisor.