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Editorial: Labor Day NM sees some improvement in economy

Labor Day rightfully honors the contributions workers have made to the well-being of the nation.

Locally, businesses and workers have been through a lot since the Great Recession of 2007-09. As usual, New Mexico’s economy declined, and has started to rebound, slower than the rest of the nation.

But it is indeed rebounding, albeit slightly. Still, that is good news for local employees, employers and residents who depend on a healthy economy.

For example, the number of jobs in Albuquerque bottomed out at just under 364,000 in December 2011 – more than a year after the National Bureau of Economic Research said the recession bottomed out. Since then, there’s been slow growth in jobs, hitting nearly 392,200 jobs in July, according to preliminary numbers. The pre-Great Recession high was 402,000 jobs in November 2007.

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There has been growth in specific employment sectors as well, and several speak well of efforts to diversify the economy. In Albuquerque, the education and health services sector produced 9,200 additional jobs from fiscal 2012 through 2017. Other healthy sectors include leisure and hospitality, which added 4,600 jobs; state government, which added 2,500 jobs; and construction, which added 2,300 jobs during that five-year period.

Even unemployment, which consistently shows New Mexico at or near the bottom of national rankings, is showing modest improvement. The state unemployment rate hit a crippling 8.8 percent in December 2010 but rebounded to 6.3 percent in July. That’s still much too high, but it’s headed in the right direction. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the Albuquerque area was 5.8 percent in July.

Much of Albuquerque’s job growth is attributable to small businesses and their employees, the backbone of our economy. Despite taking a beating during the economic downturn, and dealing with local challenges including a rising crime rate and ART construction, many of Albuquerque’s local small businesses have held on, survived and even thrived to share in this slowly recovering economy.

As the local economic engine begins gathering steam, it will be stoked by the Innovate ABQ complex taking shape at Central and Broadway, the former First Baptist Church property. The University of New Mexico, the city, the county and private partners are working to create a modern, high-tech research and development district at the site.

The first phase of the development, which opened last month, is UNM’s Lobo Rainforest, the brain child of then-UNM president Bob Frank. The six-floor, $35 million, 160,000-square-foot building will house entrepreneurial development programs and startup businesses. The top five floors of the building hold 155 two-bedroom, two-bath apartments to house up to 310 students. Sandia National Laboratories has leased a 1,000-square-foot suite. The goal is to: 1. Help link entrepreneurs to the labs’ capabilities and; 2. Give Sandia employees a place to access resources and forge connections needed to start their own companies.

The building derives its name from the “rainforest” model of development, whereby research districts are used to provide a creative environment for interaction among scientists, innovators, businesspeople and professionals who might not otherwise meet. The greater goal is to create a synergy of academic and lab knowledge and expertise with local entrepreneurial spirit. It’s the strongest effort yet to grow our private sector and strengthen the local and state economies.

And that kind of quite literal “smart growth” is something all employers and would-be employers, and employees and would-be employees, can appreciate this Labor Day.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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