Patricia Dominguez, USDA-RD State Director for New Mexico.

RCAC presents an ongoing series of discussions featuring state directors from the United States Department of Agriculture-Rural Development. Our series provides a glimpse into USDA-RD’s priorities and showcases the dedication of state directors in serving rural communities within our region.

In this issue, we speak with Patricia Dominguez, USDA-RD State Director for New Mexico.

A native of rural Peñasco in northern New Mexico, Dominguez brings a wealth of experience and a deep understanding of the rural Southwest to her role. After earning a Bachelor of Science from the University of New Mexico, she embarked on a career in public service, holding various state and county government positions. Her dedication to rural development was further honed during her tenure on the congressional staff for U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Martin Heinrich, where she was deeply involved in policies and initiatives critical to rural northern New Mexico.

Before her appointment as New Mexico’s Rural Development State Director in 2021, Dominguez served as a field representative in Sen. Heinrich’s Santa Fe office. Managing a diverse portfolio, including transportation, energy, economic development, and environmental policy, she garnered extensive experience in advocating for and implementing sustainable, community-driven development solutions.

As USDA-RD’s director in New Mexico, Dominguez is committed to enhancing the quality of life in rural communities through strategic infrastructure development, economic growth, and environmental stewardship. A deep commitment to addressing the distinctive needs of New Mexico’s rural and Indigenous communities informs her leadership.

RCAC: Patricia, your work has consistently focused on rural development. Can you share how your upbringing and experience in rural New Mexico has influenced your approach and priorities in your current role?

Patricia Dominguez: Growing up in a rural community teaches you self-reliance, but it also teaches you the value of community and sharing. For example, every summer, my family gathered firewood to heat our home in the winter. We also helped gather wood for elderly family members that could no longer perform this chore. My father grew an extensive garden to supplement food we bought at the grocery store and again we shared what he grew with family and friends. I know that this experience was shared by many in my community. I know rural communities value hard work while also sharing a deep sense of community.

That is how I approach my work at USDA Rural Development. First, let me say that it has been an honor to be appointed to this position that has allowed me to be of service to my community and all the rural communities of New Mexico. I enjoy empowering communities to find solutions that will serve the needs of their communities. When I visit a rural community, I ask questions and listen to them. Community-based solutions are the ones most likely to succeed because they are generally scale appropriate and fill an identified need. Success also brings a sense of confidence and then ideas begin to flourish and seem within reach because success produces capacity. Capacity building is a key element in rural areas where there may not be grant writers readily available who know how to access programs and capital needed for projects.

RCAC: How is USDA-RD adapting its strategies to tackle emerging challenges like climate change, technological advancements, economic shifts, and other trends in rural New Mexico?

Patricia Dominguez: The Biden-Harris administration has made funding available through many programs to tackle emerging challenges like climate change. For example, the Inflation Reduction Act has made over $2 billion available for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvement grants for agricultural producers and rural small business owners through 2031 through the Rural Energy for America Program.

The ReConnect Loan and Grant Program furnishes loans and grants to fund the costs of construction, improvement or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funded this program.

New Mexico is also one of nine states selected to participate in the Rural Partners Network. RPN is transforming the way the federal government partners with rural communities by putting federal employees on the ground to help rural communities access federal resources. Last year, the Biden-Harris administration launched to help connect all rural communities to federal resources.

RCAC: Considering the historical economic disparities affecting Indigenous communities, could you detail specific USDA-RD initiatives aimed at rectifying these inequalities and fostering economic development in New Mexico’s tribal regions?

Patricia Dominguez: This past year, USDA RD NM collaborated with EPA to fund a project with Santo Domingo Pueblo in the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative. We saw their needs and how they struggled to secure funding for their wastewater infrastructure needs. Through this initiative they were able to create a community plan and pursue funding opportunities. They should successfully complete their funding packet with our Agency and Indian Health Services this fiscal year.

Through our Water and Environment Program we’ve been able to provide funding to multiple tribal partners through the Water and Waste Facility Loans and Grants to alleviate health risks for tribal lands. For example, the Pueblo of Laguna has received numerous awards from USDA RD NM to help them improve their water and wastewater facility, lagoon expansion, and sewer lines which allowed them to connect most of their residents to the system. We’ve provided the same services to San Ildefonso Pueblo, Tesuque Pueblo, Acoma Pueblo, and Alamo Navajo School Board, Inc. to name a few.

San Felipe Pueblo and Sandia Pueblo were recipients of Congressional Direct Spending administered through our Community Facility Programs. San Felipe Pueblo received funding to build a community center and Sandia Pueblo received funding to purchase a fire truck and EMS vehicle for their new fire station.

USDA RD NM has also funded a variety of economic development related projects through our Business & Cooperative Programs in Pueblo and tribal communities that would not have taken place without our assistance.

Rural Business Development Grants:
Chicago Southland EDC – $41,000 – for Shiprock Masterplan (FY2022)
Pueblo of Pojoaque – $199,874 – Poeh Technical Trainings (FY2022)
Pueblo of Zuni – $182,075.00 – Ashiwi Business Center (FY2023)

Value Added Producer Grants:
Tracy Raymond dba BeeSezi LLC – $15,000 – Planning Grant (FY2023)

Rural Energy for America Program:
Major Market (Zuni)- $ -59,191 – Grocery store in Zuni. (FY2022)
Pueblo of Pojoaque – $423,733 – Pojoaque Farmer’s Market (FY2023. Just obligated – project to begin soon.)

RCAC: What do you believe are some of the most under-recognized assets or strengths of New Mexico’s rural areas, and how can these be leveraged for further development?

Patricia Dominguez: I think that the most important asset and strength of rural communities are the folks that live there and keep their communities’ traditions and culture alive and thriving. As I mentioned earlier, I like to support ideas that come from the community because I think community members will do their best to strike the balance to build a foundation to support community growth in a way that honors the cultures and traditions of that area and supports the needs of the next generation. Community libraries are a favorite project of mine that USDA RD supports through the Community Facilities Program. Libraries support community members of all ages and support literacy in its many forms, from reading to technology access. USDA RD’s programs are very diverse and support building community facilities, water and wastewater projects, buying a home, small business opportunities and many more opportunities, too numerous to mention here. It’s best to contact us and see if we can help; if it turns out our programs are not a fit for you, we can usually send you to a sister or partner agency that can help you.

RCAC: With the RPN marking the Biden-Harris Administration’s innovative approach to helping rural communities in states like New Mexico, how do you foresee it transforming rural development in the state?

Patricia Dominguez: RPN has been making excellent progress revitalizing rural communities in the three Community Networks (nine counties) that it serves. One of the biggest challenges that rural communities face is capacity and technical expertise. Local governments and non-profit organizations do not have the budgets to hire multiple highly qualified administrators or professionals that can navigate through the extensive federal requirements for grant applications and proposals, financial reporting requirements, project management, evaluation, and close-out.

Even if funding was not a problem, skilled and experienced professionals are not readily available in rural New Mexico communities. RPN staff assist in identifying additional partners, facilitating groups to common ground and providing the technical assistance and guidance to help local entities become successful. RPN also assists local groups and organizations by providing direct one-on-one and specialized guidance and support where needed. Building capacity rather than doing the work for them is the goal in transforming rural development. In addition, the RPN team is empowered to address and challenge policies that hinder progress.

RPN also supports workforce development and disaster economic recovery initiatives throughout its networks. For example, after the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history, RPN assisted a local wood processing plant in Las Vegas, New Mexico to qualify and be awarded a $1 million Community Development Block Grant to harvest burnt trees for processing at its plant. The company was able to buy additional harvesting and processing equipment with this funding. CDBG will soon fund a similar $1 million project to the Mora County government for three local wood processing businesses in the Mora Valley for equipment as well. Between both CDBG funding sources, a total of 24 new jobs will be created in Mora and San Miguel counties which is a big boost for their local economies.

Another example of workforce development facilitated by a RPN Community Liaison was the development of a butcher training certificate program developed out of New Mexico State University for a meat processing plant in Sunland Park, New Mexico. This program allows 600 of its employees in the meat processing industry to improve their trade for job retention and other benefits. The curriculum enhances Stampede’s competitive advantage in the marketplace by producing a better hand-crafted, higher-quality product through the trained hands of its employees. This program is being replicated at other meat processing plants in Georgia, Illinois and Canada.

Finally, there is no limit as to what type of project RPN staff can support in rural New Mexico in economic and community development, infrastructure, and capacity building. With support from the RPN National Office, staff always keep abreast of federal programs that can provide technical assistance, funding, and services to rural entities. More importantly, RPN staff are the local representatives for all federal government programs and agencies.

RCAC: Lastly, what enduring impact do you aim to have on New Mexico’s rural communities in your role as state director?

Patricia Dominguez: I would like to continue to empower the USDA RD NM staff to build deep relationships with New Mexico’s rural communities. It is really the staff that make a difference in these communities; without their assistance and support, rural communities that don’t have the capacity to apply for our programs would miss out on these opportunities.

Building capacity internally and externally is something that will last past my tenure in this role.


Learn more about our work in New Mexico:


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Over The Moon Indigenous Food Truck
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