Column: N.M.’s net migration problem causing a ‘talent vacuum’

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — While New Mexico’s overall population has remained fairly flat since 2010 — largely because births have outpaced deaths — more people are continuing to leave the state than are moving here.

In fact, our state had a negative “net migration” (the number of people that move into and out of a state) of -3,509 last year, a trend that began in 2012.

New Mexico ranked 40th nationally with a net overall population gain of just over 2,000 people (0.1 percent) last year.

This is especially concerning when you consider that Texas (1.3 percent), Colorado (1.4 percent), Arizona (1.7 percent), Utah (1.9 percent) and Nevada (2.1 percent) are all enjoying historic growth in both population and net migration.

There’s no question that people are choosing to relocate to the western part of the country… just not New Mexico.

Even though Sandoval County grew at a modest rate of 1.6 percent last year, our community and the state continue to lose students and young working adults at alarming rates as they move to surrounding states for better job opportunities or to further their educations.

This is creating a talent vacuum that needs to be addressed for our state to compete and enjoy economic prosperity in the future.

Ultimately, these numbers reflect the lack of educational and economic opportunities in our state when compared to those around us.

Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Utah and Nevada are all among the national leaders in terms of net migration of millennials, and consequently they all have vibrant economies with capable, educated workforces.

Why does New Mexico always seem to lag behind when it comes to employment opportunity and economic growth?

If high numbers of working-age New Mexicans and their families continue to leave our state, what will become of our future?

Higher taxes; reduced essential services, including public safety; and a lower quality of life will certainly follow.

Those of us who live here witness daily all the great things that New Mexico has to offer: unmatched weather, amazing scenery and abundant outdoor activities, a diverse and vibrant culture, etc.

In my view, there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be able to keep pace with our neighboring states when it comes to economic opportunity and quality of life.

However, it will require a strong commitment to improving the quality of our educational institutions and developing a science, technology, engineering and math-skilled workforce that will attract new business investment and the high-paying jobs that will surely follow.

Even though a university education may not be for everyone, every effort should be made to ensure interested students receive additional training beyond high school in a technical, trade-school or apprenticeship program where they can learn the mechanical, electrical or construction skills that will lead to success in the new economy.

Do these challenges seem daunting? Sure, but our neighboring states have made the commitment and are reaping the rewards.

There is no doubt that conquering these challenges will require strong political, business and community leadership and the desire to positively change the direction of our state.

(Brad Crowson is the regional manager for WESST, a nonprofit small-business development and training organization dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs in Rio Rancho and throughout New Mexico. For more information, visit wesst.org or call 892-1238.)

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