It’s not a new story or a new trend. New Mexico has struggled with slow or declining population growth in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. And more people are leaving the state than moving in.
“The picture is worse than people think,” Research and Polling president Brian Sanderoff said in a Journal story in 2016, pointing out that 27,000 more people had moved out of the state than moved in from 2010 to 2015.
But the fact this isn’t new doesn’t make it any less important – in fact addressing it is vital, especially given the fact the state is preparing to elect a new governor.
And a new report by Searchlight New Mexico published in the Journal on July 5 ups the ante even more as it focuses on who’s leaving. In short, it’s younger and better-educated people looking for greener economic pastures and perhaps the allure offered by cities like Seattle, Austin and Denver.
The most recent numbers available put the net exodus between 2011 and 2016 at 47,000, and Jeff Mitchell, director of the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, says the data “clearly indicate that out-migration is occurring at a disproportionate rate in better-educated younger adults and people with bachelor’s degrees.”
While the problem is simple, the remedies are complex.
New Mexico is a state heavily reliant on federal spending and the ups and downs of the energy industry. Our private sector infrastructure isn’t what it needs to be. Promising startups that launch here, often with ideas from the University of New Mexico or the national laboratories, often sell to bigger companies out of state or move elsewhere as they attempt to “scale up.”
And we are beset with awful education outcomes and top-of-the-chart crime. When your flagship university is a clear No. 1 in auto theft rather than, say, law or engineering, it’s not exactly a helpful marketing point. (And it’s not really fair to criticize UNM because it does a lot of great work and its auto theft problem reflects that of the greater metro area.)
In addition to crime stats, when companies look at New Mexico they see rankings like 50th in child well-being and a 71 percent four-year high school graduation rate. And this is a tough place to do business. A recent Wallet Hub study ranked New Mexico dead last in “business environment.” It often feels like we have more government bureaucrats and hurdles than we do budding entrepreneurs.
To those who say we shouldn’t worry about recruiting outsiders, they should reflect on this question: If a site selection company rejects us because of issues like crime and education and feels this isn’t a place business executives and their employees would want to raise their kids, why would we think our educated young people would want to stay? After all, chile, late-day sun on the Sandias and a rich multicultural environment only go so far.
Incoming Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce Chair Pat Vincent-Collawn reinforced this in a Business Outlook interview published Monday, defining crime, education and Downtown development as her top three agenda items.
This is important stuff. When you are losing people, and perhaps more importantly those who have reached certain education levels, one could argue you are approaching an economic death spiral – if you’re not already in it.
The two candidates for governor – Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce – need to address this issue of population drop, out-migration and quality of life completely and head on, not piecemeal. Voters should demand a real plan that tackles these individual problems as part of a whole meant to make New Mexico more attractive not only to outsiders, but residents as well.
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.