Taos Hums……….with Business Growth

TAOS HUMS……With Business Growth

World renown for art and its culturally diverse history that includes Taos Pueblo, Society of Arts and Writers’ Colony, Taos also has a slightly underground community of manufacturers.  The products are as diverse as jewelry and drums, foods and herbal tinctures, and skin care and cosmetics.  Some of these businesses are hard to find, but they are playing a critical role in this community.  Families are supported by good jobs that afford opportunities for growth and promotion.

State programs like JTIP and LEDA were created, and are used, to encourage the growth of these economic base businesses.

Plenish is a private label cosmetic and skin care company started 16 years ago.  The popularity and success of the products led the company to begin selling directly to the public, and Vapour Organic Beauty was started 10 years later.  Founders Krysia Boinis and Kristine Keheley bring their specialized, individual talents to the company.  Krysia has a knowledge of healing botanicals and blending, and Kristine creates Vapour’s palette of modern, classic Fine Art Infused Color.  Their website features the beauty of Taos and both find this area to be an inspirational place to create, as so many have before them.

Plenish/Vapour has been utilizing the Job Training Incentive Program (JTIP) to grow its employees for many years.   Training has led to long term employment for many of their workers.  There are 150 products in the line and new workers are trained in each area of the business, including R & D, ingredient sourcing, marketing and order fulfillment.  One early employee started in order taking and eventually advanced to sales manager.  Another began in data entry and went on to head IT.  The product manager started in production just three years ago.   The training provided through JTIP has played a key role in keeping and advancing these employees, “there is nothing else like JTIP available for this type of specialized training.”

Private Label Select is another Taos manufacturer that produces skin care products which sell under another brand.  With 40 employees, the company has recently been able to start offering benefits that include paid leave, a health care plan and 401k.  Most of the employees have never been offered these kinds of benefits in prior jobs.  Retention is one factor in providing these benefits and company founder, Karl Halpert, credits JTIP with enhancing that retention rate.  Private Label Select also has benefited from EDD’s Office of International Trade.   The company attended trade shows in Italy and Hong Kong with the Trade Office and landed a new contract as a result.

The next Food Sector Opportunity Program training will be held April 3-7 at TCEDC.  Call the Center at 575.758.8731.

The Food Center at the Taos County Economic Development Center (TCEDC) is where those who want to start making and selling food products are mentored to achieve their individualized goals.  Founders Pati Martinson and Terrie Bad Hand started TCEDC in 1987, making it New Mexico’s first and oldest sustained business incubator.   Pati and Terrie have a deep understanding of Taos and an accompanying appreciation of its diversity and uniqueness.  TCEDC has assisted more than 400 businesses in its 30 year history.

There have been many successes over the years, including Taos Mountain Energy Bars, which outgrew the TCEDC facility and was assisted by a LEDA award of $300,000 to move into its own 10,000 SF manufacturing space in Questa.  Many of the businesses that start at TCEDC never intend to be large manufacturing operations.   They support families and New Mexico’s oldest indigenous industry, agriculture.

Yadira Valerio and Merced Bustillos are natives of Nicolas Bravo, a small village in the Chihuahua Mountains.  With the support of TCEDC they opened their business, Taqueria El Torito, in February 2013.  They prepare food at the Food Center and serve it from the food truck in Valerio Plaza at Ranchos de Taos, supporting two families.

One of TCEDC’s most successful programs has been the Food Sector Opportunity Program (FSOP), a week-long training that includes everything from safety and compliance to marketing.  It is offered free and has been attended by hundreds of entrepreneurs and wannabees over the years.  Heyam Khweis is a FSOP graduate who started and operates her Arabian Nights Foods business from TCEDC.  She prepares a line of Middle Eastern foods sold in regional markets, generating $100,000 in annual income for her family.   Her three children all attended and graduated from Ivey League schools thanks to Arabian Nights Foods.

Tiana Suazo interned at TCEDC after graduating from college.  She managed the Farm Stand and did marketing for the incubator and Food Center.  Now she and her boyfriend work at Red Willow Farm on Taos Pueblo.  They have been inspired by the movement toward traditional foods such as corn, beans and squash, and “heritage seeds.”  Like her mentors, Pati and Terrie, Tiana has set your own goals based on her keen understanding of her community.  This spring she will plant her own crops, inspired by a Community Shared (or Supported) Agriculture (CSA) program she visited in Colorado.  CSA programs allow community members to purchase a “farm share” for the growing season, which entitles them to a weekly share of the harvest throughout the season.  Tiana’s bags will include recipes for preparing the food she provides.  She also supports seed exchanges and is keen on preserving the 1,000 year history of farming at the Pueblo.

EDD provided $100,000 in LEDA funds to TCEDC in 2014 for improvements and continues to support the costs of operating the incubator (and all seven certified business incubators) annually as funds are made available.