“Prove them wrong”: South Valley groups drive economic growth

It’s a weekday in mid-July and small businesses use the South Valley Economic Development Center kitchen and freezers, preparing their business for sales later in the week.

Workers at Agri-Cultura Network, a farm-to-table cooperative that brings produce from South Valley growers to local supermarkets, work hard to wash vegetables before they hit store shelves.

The cooperative has a long-standing partnership with the Rio Grande Community Development Corp., the organization that oversees SVEDC and other initiatives focused on food insecurity and business incubation.

Just down the street, organizers with a group focused on voting underserved communities are hosting a meeting in one of the spaces at the Social Enterprise Center, a building privately owned and operated by Partnership for Community Action.

PCA emphasizes education, economic sustainability, health equity and immigrant rights. The organization does a bit of everything that helps residents of this neighborhood succeed. The center has one anchor tenant—Southwest Creations Collaborative, an industrial sewing manufacturer—which leases space in the building, providing jobs for many of the area’s Spanish-speaking residents. When the center opened in June, PCA said it would directly support 77 jobs over the next nine years.

PCA and RGCDC are just two of the few organizations in the region that seek to change the negative perception of the South Valley as an area with low economic potential, and provide residents of this area with jobs and an opportunity to turn their ideas into reality. .

“Ultimately, RGCDC was created for the community to have a voice and a means to effect change,” said Josue Olivares, Executive Director of RGCDC. “And that’s something we need to make sure that keeps happening.”

Incubate businesses, provide opportunities

The RGCDC was founded in 1986. The initial goal of the organization was to serve the needs of area residents and businesses.

This mission has continued in recent years, with a focus on incubating small, food-focused businesses.

The organization does this through the SVEDC, which offers commercial-grade cooking for companies to test and create their products.

There’s the Semilla program that presents potential small business owners or start-ups with a wealth of information to determine if their business model or food product is viable for long-term success.

There’s also the Mixing Bowl program, which allows small business owners to take advantage of commercial-grade cooking to produce larger quantities of their food items in hopes of eventually getting them to stores.

But RGCDC initiatives are not necessarily limited to business incubation. The organization also has another initiative, Delicious New Mexico, which focuses on small to medium volume distribution services for local farmers and food producers in the South Valley.

Delicious New Mexico has developed relationships with stores across the state.

“We found many gaps in small markets able to enter retail, as well as distribution and connection issues across the state of New Mexico,” said Sean Humphrey, director by Delicious New Mexico. “Another aspect is also looking at the food deserts in the state (and) getting sufficient access to food in those areas as well through distribution.”

Olivares said the RGCDC is always looking for new opportunities to serve the community, whether that means partnering with other local organizations to achieve this or even finding new programs and initiatives to offer. In fact, SVEDC is expanding with an additional 16,000 square feet of cold storage and production space, paving the way for the organization to serve an even wider range of entrepreneurs in the future.

business center

Southwest Creations Collaborative operates as the anchor tenant across the street from the recently opened Social Enterprise Center.

SCC occupies about half of the 14,000 square foot facility space. Women who work at the facility are offered child care services that cost only 25 cents an hour, making it easier for them to support their families.

More than 40 people currently employed by SCC — mostly Hispanic women — sew a variety of products from dog collars to tote bags and everything in between for local and non-local businesses.

SCC executive director Susan Matteucci said the sewing business – which is registered as a nonprofit – is more like a family than a typical job where you come from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. h.

“I think what the Social Enterprise Center does is build on the strengths of the community, not the weaknesses,” she said. “And why I say a lot of nonprofits and social enterprises (hubs) only focus where people think the employment sector would be. … It’s not based on the fact that people need access to good jobs that are consistent, that pay well, that value them as a person, that value their families, that value the attitudes that they might add.

PCA Associate Director Nichelle Gilbert, the organization that runs the Social Enterprise Center, said it is also focused on helping small businesses in the community, highlighting the help they provide in the sector. of childcare. Gilbert said the organization helps these people understand licensing and connects them to resources to move their business forward.

“Being able to serve as a resource for this group to make the business side more accessible to help invest in a structure as they grow from six kids to 12 kids, or as they grow up needing to modify their home or their background for a playground – it’s that idea of ​​incubation,” Gilbert said.

Overcome stereotypes

The South Valley is known for many things, but crime and poverty have often overshadowed the region’s rich history.

Words like “deficient” and “struggling” are how outsiders tend to view the South Valley. But local leaders say South Valley residents are best described as passionate, creative, dynamic and engaged, said Javier Martínez, executive director of PCA and a Democratic lawmaker in the New Mexico House of Representatives.

“These are people who don’t give up,” Martínez said. “Regardless of how other communities or other politicians might see us, we are relentless and we are powerful. …For all perceptions about us, we prove them wrong.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misrepresented the nature of the Social Enterprise Center. The center is private property.

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