It’s not often a town of 45,000 gets a social media shout out from Hollywood stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jack Black. It’s also not often a town of 45,000 people is involved in the filming of a major blockbuster, but that’s the reality residents of Farmington, N.M., are facing.
“You feel the spirit down here. It’s a very spiritual place,” Johnson said in an Instagram video posted to his account April 25. “The mana is real down here. And these drives have just been spectacular.”
Black, also in Farmington filming “Jumanji” alongside The Rock, joined in the praise of the community via a live-stream video he posted on social media, shouting out a local bar and grill: “If you’re ever in Farmington, N.M., be sure to hit Three Rivers. It’s a rad bar and grill.”
The recent attention from stars is a welcomed addition to the already bustling tourist economy of Farmington, which has also been the site of other film and TV productions over the years. Such productions, along with numerous other visitors, are drawn to Farmington’s unique terrain and recreational opportunities. It sits in the northwest corner of New Mexico and is the commercial hub of the “Four Corners” region. The city is approximately 400 miles from Phoenix, Denver and Salt Lake City, with Albuquerque and Santa Fe less than 200 miles to the southeast.
It is this unique position and natural beauty the city is currently investing in, according to both Tonya Stinson, executive director of Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Warren Unsicker, the city’s director of economic development. In doing so, the city and the FCVB, along with other local, regional and state partners, are aiming to attract the outdoor recreation industry to town.
“City officials have done a great deal to bolster the outdoor recreation industry (within the city),” Unsicker said, noting the city has launched the Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative, which he oversees as its director — Farmington is the first city to have such a director. “The Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative has two different parts. Part one is building more outdoor recreational infrastructure (building more trails, new parks, new outdoor amenities, etc.). Part two is attracting and growing outdoor recreation businesses, specifically those manufacturing the products or offering trips or guided tours.”
The outdoor recreation industry fits right in with Farmington’s brand: “Where outdoor lovers and active families thrive.” It’s a brand the nonprofit FCVB is aligning with, too, with its use of the slogan: “Jolt Your Journey,” which Stinson noted encourages visitors and residents alike to jolt their own outdoor adventures and embrace all the city and region has to offer.
“We have the Animas River going right through the city, there are over 50 city-maintained parks, lakes and really unique land forms,” Stinson said, noting there are opportunities for all sorts of adventures from biking and fun in the water to UTVs, which are really popular in the area. “We want young outdoorsy entrepreneurs to come and set up their tech here, develop it here.”
One step toward realizing the goal of drawing outdoor companies to Farmington was a city booth at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Denver, Colo. The booth itself was staffed by volunteers who represented not only the city and the FCVB but other regional partners.
“Seventeen (volunteers) showed up to support us at the booth,” Unsicker said, adding, “It made a big splash with companies.”
Stinson noted it was a great opportunity for the city to really show “this is what we offer and this is what we have to offer the (outdoor recreation) industry.”
“There is a regional buy in,” Unsicker said of the ORII, noting local San Juan College has launched a certified business incubator through its Enterprise center to accelerate O.R. businesses. “They’ve all seen the benefits and the need for diversification of the economy.”
Over the years, Farmington has had a rich history with the natural gas and energy industry, according to Unsicker and Stinson.
“We are grateful to them,” Stinson said, noting that industry is still very much supported by the Four Corners region while it also diversifies with the outdoor recreation industry. “The outdoors was just sitting there. We are careful with it and want to do it right; it’s such a great opportunity.” She added it also benefits the natural gas and energy industry as well. “(Their employees) want to get out and play, too.”
Unsicker noted, “Our outdoor recreation opportunities have been undercapitalized — it is a low-hanging fruit we’d be remiss not to take on for our economy. We are desperately trying to diversify, and (O.R.) is the most logical step in our current position.” Unlike other potential industries, it doesn’t require too many pieces — like street or wastewater infrastructure — to be checked off Farmington’s list since its natural surroundings already provide what outdoor enthusiasts crave.
The city is revamping its downtown with a streetscape project, which will begin in 2020 and make the environment more walkable and friendly. To further bolster the tourism industry and outdoor recreation industry, among other numerous economic benefits, efforts are well underway to return commercial air service to the Four Corners Regional Airport in Farmington; in fact, the New Mexico Airport Managers Association named the airport the “most improved” in July. The Four Corners Regional Airport has used a $3.45 million Federal Aviation Administration grant to expand runaways to handle larger planes and jets and make other improvements.
Getting Farmington’s mission on the right track has been a community effort, with Stinson noting, “There is a great group of organizations working consistently to make this effort go forward. It’s very important to the community profile. There are a lot of exciting things happening here. We want people to see them.” She added, “When our community sees challenges, we face them head on and come out stronger on the other side.”
“We’ve taken a holistic approach that is a multifaceted, multi-organization effort. It makes a huge difference,” Unsicker said. However, he added it is important to have support from the top, too. “The mayor and council have really been behind the initiative from the start. It is a passion of the mayor’s — it’s his baby. It’s a huge opportunity for us. The state has also recently bought in; it’s economic development department recently added an outdoor recreation director.”
Mayor Nate Duckett expressed the city and community’s commitment to the outdoor recreation industry, “The Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative in Farmington is proof of our community’s financial interest in supporting outdoor recreation companies. The city of Farmington took bold steps passing 1/4% gross receipts tax increase in 2018 to provide funding for community-wide improvements to enhance our quality of life, economic diversification, investment in outdoor recreation amenities and provide incentives to O.R. companies looking to relocate or expand into the vibrant O.R. environment here in the Four Corners region. Within a 75-mile radius around Farmington, one can truly fulfill every outdoor adventure possible proving there is no better place to manufacture, test and sell outdoor recreation products.”