Cheryl Everett

As the African proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

It also takes a village to build a city with a strong economic base that employs local residents and provides tax revenue for other community-building measures.

The Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce (RRRCC) shows how. The chamber also draws our community together in ways that help define “who we are” and distinguish us from other urban areas in New Mexico and bordering states.

Rio Rancho’s chamber was founded in 1980, and added “regional” to its name when it absorbed the Sandoval County chamber in 2015. So why “regional”?

Some Rio Ranchoans feared chamber support for the city would be siphoned off into other county communities. But RRRCC President and CEO Jerry Schalow sees the larger base as more of a “win-win” than a zero-sum game.

Between 2016, when Schalow took the chamber helm, and 2020, the chamber doubled its membership, which now numbers roughly 50 percent male and 50 percent female.

Some chambers around the country operate as clubs for business elites. RRRCC’s board appointment screening starts with the expectation that board members will be active in the community and reflect the diversity of Rio Rancho residents.

For example, when a mid-term city councilor vacancy opened up late in 2020, all five other council seats were held by white men.

When this concern was raised at a local business-booster meeting, Schalow posted the council vacancy in the RRRCC newsletter. He said several chamber members did apply, in a city screening process that ended with the appointment of a superbly qualified Black woman to fill the vacancy.

Setting another example of best business practices, RRRCC will release its 2021 strategic plan in early February and post it online at rrrcc.org. It’s clear from an early preview that the chamber models entrepreneurship in its own operations as well as supporting it in the community.

Perhaps RRRCC’s greatest community service is an array of partnerships that engage city residents themselves in fueling the growth of a sustainable local economy. Some recent examples of those include:

• Tour de Local — a virtual meet-and-greet featuring some of Rio Rancho’s favorite businesses.

• Shop & Stroll on Southern — a weekend of open houses and bargain hunting on our “main street.”

• A chamber page running monthly in the Rio Rancho Observer.

The chamber leader also poses hard questions on behalf of our community. For instance:

• Why is there no public COVID vaccination site in Rio Rancho, New Mexico’s third-largest city?

• Are nonprofits — an important segment of chamber members — getting a fair share of COVID-related aid?

On the plus side, Schalow noted Rio Rancho city government’s economic development “best practices,” including accessible local officials and staff skilled in clearing away unintended development barriers.

That approach led most recently to Rio Rancho landing the high-tech firm Nature’s Toolbox, which will create 116 high-paying local jobs.

Learn more about the chamber’s opportunities to grow and serve the Rio Rancho region at rrrcc.org.

Cheryl Everett