Chamber visits Washington, D.C.
WSMR one agenda item
Members of the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce made an annual trip to Washington, D.C., in March.
Despite losing almost an entire day to a late-winter snow storm, members were able to meet with seven high-level Pentagon officials, members of seven different federal delegations, one organization with military ties to the region and one company interested in locating to Las Cruces, as well as attended three briefings at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The group that represented Las Cruces consisted of board members Russell Allen of Allen Theatres, Savonne Griffin of FirstLight Federal Credit Union, Richard Haas of Steve Newby Architects & Associates, Rick Jackson of American Document Services; former chairs Bill Connor of El Paso Electric Co. and Kiel Hoffman of Pioneer Bank; past board member Ben Woods of New Mexico State University, Joe Bullington of Jacobs Technology and Eric Montgomery of Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance (MVEDA).
There were a couple of main themes to discussions at the Pentagon:
• SunZia: An issue that was prominent during last year’s visit, and one the Chamber has been clear on from the start, is SunZia. With the decision coming to a head, these visits were partly an opportunity to thank those who have supported the Department of Defense’s position with regards to SunZia. It was also a chance to hear their opinion of the recent explanation of the MIT/Lincoln Labs study recently briefed to the federal delegation. The MIT report validates DoD’s concerns that the construction of the proposed aboveground route through the northern call-up area would threaten the defense mission at White Sands Missile Range.
• Budget/Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC): The budget pressures will continue and BRAC may play a part in the process. Items the Pentagon discussed included force reduction and cost savings associated with BRAC; the resulting over capacity at U.S. bases; and the impact to programs. The DoD’s position is that an official BRAC process will bring about funds for areas impacted by base closures. Not using this process would allow for a base to be closed without support to impacted communities.
• WSMR and the loss of the 2E Battalion: In many Chamber meetings, WSMR is highly respected, as a DoD asset. The messaging was: there is potential capacity in the region and it is a matter of finding missions that would complement the area. That was one reason why a BRAC process may not be a bad thing for the region. Understanding the mission capabilities of the bases and building on those capabilities is what will make the region successful as the budget issues continue to play out.
The Chamber’s meetings with the area federal delegation were less consistent, even though the majority of the topics were the same. The tone of the SunZia discussion differed greatly depending on which office the attendees were in, as did the discussion on the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks Monument issue.
In all the federal delegation meetings, a representative spoke on the establishment of a regional investment center by Doña Ana County in partnership with Civitas Capital Group. The discussion point for the federal delegation was supporting and making a simple change to legislation proposed by Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado. There was interest in supporting MVEDA in this effort, but the staffers asked for follow-up information.
Another item brought forth by MVEDA was the possible push by the City of El Paso to have Customs and Border Protection (CBP) expand the current boundaries of the El Paso port code to include the new Santa Teresa Rail Terminal, located in southern New Mexico.
While this point was discussed, the preparation for this trip had the federal delegation speaking with CBP on this issue and it was clear that CBP did not have any desire to expand the El Paso port code. Chamber members did ask the staff to keep track of this issue to ensure there was no traction.
There was some discussion regarding the possible use of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant funding for potential Spaceport America infrastructure needs near Interstate 10, but it was clear the community needs to approach the delegation with a clearer purpose for these types of projects.
The meetings at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, using their fly-in process, covered the topics of small business, military and immigration. The Chamber members are always assured of a non-Capitol Hill perspective at these meetings and what other areas of the country are experiencing. It provides great perspective.