Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

A new community hub for the South Valley

The Social Enterprise Center in Bernalillo County’s South Valley celebrated its grand opening June 2. ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS/Journal

Part of my job at the Journal is participating in Editorial Board discussions, the majority of which, unfortunately, tend to broach appalling topics.

We’re talking about fatal child neglect, guns at schools, inept bureaucracy, political sleaze and so on. Sure there’s the occasional bright spot, but consistently examining problems can leave a journalist jaded about our ability to forge solutions.

That’s why it was so rewarding to attend the recent ribbon-cutting for the South Valley Social Enterprise Center – a gleaming 14,000-square-foot facility at 722 Isleta Boulevard SW.

At its core, the building houses manufacturing and office space. But it’s really a nerve center for the South Valley – a place to cultivate ideas about how to improve the lives, economic standing, political power, educational outcomes, health and well-being of South Valley residents.

In other words, a place imbued with optimism about a brighter future – with full faith in the community to shape it.

“We’re celebrating the concept of what families can achieve when they come together – of what working people can achieve when they come together and advocate for change,” said state Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque and executive director of Partnership for Community Action, a grassroots nonprofit which took a leading role in bringing this collaborative public-private economic development initiative to fruition.

“Economic development in the South Valley does not have to be a Dollar Tree store,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a Sonic drive-in. It doesn’t have to be another liquor store. It does not have to be another huge tax giveaway to big corporations to create more minimum-wage jobs.”

‘Two to tango’

The initial round of funding for the Social Enterprise Center was provided through the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, Albuquerque Community Foundation, Santa Fe Community Foundation and the WK Kellogg Foundaton, along with several other funders.

The key collaboration is between the Partnership for Community Action and Southwest Creations Collaborative (SCC), which is the anchor tenant for the Social Enterprise Center and, importantly, a provider of manufacturing jobs.

That aspect of the partnership helped PCA, which owned the land on which the center now sits, in lining up the funding it needed to build the $4.5 million facility.

The arrangement means PCA gets space for staffers to engage families in adult education, youth mentorship, child care, job training, leadership development and educational support, while SCC provides a real-world example of “social enterprise” – all under one roof.

On its own, the Social Enterprise Center promotes self-betterment and creates an environment where South Valley entrepreneurs can succeed and grow.

But I recently had the opportunity to learn more about another initiative called “Color Theory” from Josué Olivares, executive director of the Rio Grande Economic Development Corp., which serves as fiscal sponsor and coordinator for the Color Theory coalition.

The Color Theory initiative, which now includes around a dozen organizations, aims to unite the Albuquerque’s nonprofit groups in a collaborative process to connect lower-income, minority individuals and neighborhoods with the tools they need to build economic opportunity through entrepreneurship.

That’s a formidable one-two punch to lift the South Valley’s economy.

Just the beginning

Over nine years, the South Valley Social Enterprise Center is projected to directly support 77 jobs, with an estimated annual economic impact of more than $8 million.

Many are familiar with the story of Southwest Creations Collaborative, but as a newcomer, I’m fascinated by how the woman-led business does what it does.

Since its founding 29 years ago, SCC’s focus has been on giving employees – most of them Hispanic women with children – opportunities to build better lives for their families.

“If you give a woman a chance to earn an income, she’s going to invest it in her kids,” says Susan Matteucci, one of SCC’s founders and the executive director.

SCC pays a living wage and provides low-cost child care on site, plus paid time off for workers to further their education, take citizenship classes, learn English and participate in the academic lives of their children.

The business is cut-and-sew fabrication and handwork. Business revenues cover wages and cost of goods, but SCC raises funds to support programmatic work, making it about 85% self-sufficient.

The magic is seeing outcomes. Diana Camacho, one of the founders of the collaborative still on staff, points to her own family as an example of the life-changing power of the business model.

Not only did she get her GED, learn English and some computer skills, all three of her children are on their way to established professional careers. She credits day care and the opportunity to be an involved parent with their success.

The South Valley Social Enterprise Center stands to elevate SCC’s work, offering an opportunity for others interested in the concept of social enterprise to learn from SCC’s experience. “This project will be exported to every corner of the state,” Martínez said.

Wouldn’t it be great for the South Valley’s chief exports to be self-sufficiency and empowerment?

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