FARMINGTON – Ray Hagerman is stepping down as CEO of Four Corners Economic Development.

Hagerman's last day with the Farmington-based economic development organization will be March 25. He begins his new role as president of the Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation in Madisonville, Ky., on April 1.

"I love the work that we're doing here; I love the work that we've done," Hagerman said. "At the end of the day, though, it is about family."

Hagerman said he and his wife, Dona, decided to make the move to be closer to their five adult children and other family members. While they plan to make their home in Hopkins County, Hagerman said they will keep their Farmington home and plan to return to visit.

Hagerman, 57, became 4CED's first chief executive on April 1, 2013. Before coming to Farmington, Hagerman served as vice president of investments for the Dayton Development Coalition in Dayton, Ohio.

Four Corners Economic Development was formed in 2012 out of its predecessor, the San Juan Economic Development Service, and stems from a desire by business and civic officials to diversify the local economy beyond the boom-and-bust nature of the oil-and-gas industry.

Hagerman said diversification efforts in the area face challenges from a lack of rail lines and interstate highways to the various checkerboard land designations that make area development a tricky process of multi-entity coordination. Those elements often slow projects or lead them to die on the vine.

"Every community like ours has to have a competitive advantage or advantages, and normally to make yourself attractive to companies outside the area, it requires things that we did not have," he said. "Really, economic development is all about trying to create the environment where businesses can be successful."

Hagerman said San Juan County's designation as the first ACT Inc. Work Ready Community in New Mexico was one positive step.

He said that the area's three strongest paths toward diversification are jobs in the health care sector, investments in local petrochemical manufacturing and electronics assembly jobs.

Georgia Gramlich, 4CED executive board chairwoman, said Hagerman's leadership has steered the economic development group in the right direction.

"I'm very, very sad that he's going to go," Gramlich said. "He's done an excellent job in the three years he's been here, and he's raised the awareness and credibility of our economic development organization."

Hagerman did so, she said, by leading the group's campaign, "Real People, Real Jobs," that last year put a spotlight on the potential loss of hundreds of jobs at the San Juan Generating Station and the San Juan Mine.

At the time that campaign was launched, the state Public Regulation Commission was midway through an 18-month case involving a plan by the power plant's owner, the Public Service Company of New Mexico, to shut down half of the coal-fired power plant's units and retrofit the others to meet federal haze rules.

Hagerman said the campaign has transitioned from the regulatory impacts of coal-fired power to fighting for oil and gas workers' jobs in the face of possible changes to federal regulations, especially the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's proposed rule regarding venting and flaring and methane emissions.

This year, 4CED's campaign retrained its focus on the thousands of largely oilfield workers in the area who have been laid off. In January, the group held the first of two jobs-related events that brought together business development groups, along with college officials, investment advisers and local employers at San Juan College.

"Those are some of his successes," Gramlich said.

She said the board will meet today and form a search committee to find Hagerman's replacement.

"We don't want to lose ground at all, and we know that time is of the essence," she said. "My idea was that he had to find his replacement before he could leave, but he didn't go for that. We just want to continue to be a voice for the industries of the area — whether its oil and gas, power plants, small business owners — we're out there, and we're listening to what they're saying to help them get through these tough times."

Mayor Tommy Roberts said he was disappointed to learn of Hagerman's departure, but believes Hagerman helped accomplish some of the goals of the economic development group.

"He's left us in a better position now than when he got here," Roberts said. "I think that (his departure) presents some new challenges and an opportunity, as well, and we'll just need to do our due diligence and make a good decision on a replacement for Ray."

Roberts said Hagerman's job is inherently challenging, but he said the group has been helpful in preserving jobs or helping those out of work find new employment.

"Ray undertook a difficult job because economic development and diversification is a tough job in an isolated community like ours," Roberts said. "Nevertheless, I think he has a number of successes, and he's worked hard ... He's done a great job leading the advocacy efforts on behalf of our local industry. It's difficult to create jobs when you're fighting a battle to retain jobs."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.