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More layoffs coming to New Mexico

Food manufacturer Desert Premium Group is among companies to recently give notice of planned layoffs. (Courtesy of 505 Southwestern)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Several companies operating in New Mexico recently notified the state about upcoming layoffs, including a firm that oversees one of the Southwest’s most iconic food brands.

Desert Premium Group, which is affiliated with New Mexico-branded food production company 505 Southwestern, submitted a letter to the state workforce department in June in compliance with the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, announcing it plans to lay off 95 employees in August.

Ted Gardner, president of Desert Premium Group, said the salsa portion of the business remains intact and has continued to grow quickly. Gardner said Desert Premium Group has opted to discontinue a line of frozen food items it co-packages under a different brand, and will be focusing more on the salsa business.

“It’s really a growth story, we just happened to have this legacy operation,” Gardner said.

Gardner said Desert Premium Group’s layoffs were not tied to the virus, as the company’s frozen food business had been in decline for several years. Meanwhile, the salsa portion of the business has grown by up to 20% per year, Gardner said.

The company opted to move a handful of employees from its frozen food operations, which employed between 130 and 140 people in New Mexico, over to salsa production earlier this year. However, he said the company’s warehouse was already at capacity and couldn’t add another shift.

Going forward, Gardner said the company is looking to add high-speed production equipment and expand its geographic footprint.

“People love the green chile, especially down in our core markets,” Gardner said.

Other companies that submitted notices under the WARN act are Zia Park Casino Hotel & Racetrack, Basic Energy Services and Spire Hospitality.

Barbara Doucet, vice president of human relations with Spire Hospitality, a Texas-based hotel management company that operates the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Albuquerque, said the company furloughed employees at the beginning of the pandemic with the hope that economic conditions would improve. Doucet said the company made those layoffs permanent in June.

“We are hoping and we are praying that the market turns around,” Doucet said.

Basic Energy Services is laying off 112 employees in Artesia, and Zia Park Casino Hotel & Racetrack is laying off 19 employees in Hobbs, according to documents filed with the state of New Mexico. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

So far in 2020, 20 companies have filed layoff notices in New Mexico, more than the total number submitted in 2018 and 2019 combined. The uptick in mass layoffs is due in large part to the economic downturn associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, New Mexico’s unemployment rate stood at 8.3%, up from 4.9% a year prior.

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