Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Most state and federal programs that have sprung up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been focused on helping businesses stay afloat in the short and medium term.
But a recent federal grant is designed to help New Mexico chart a more sustainable economic path over the next two decades.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said last month that the federal agency has awarded a $1.5 million CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to New Mexico’s Economic Development Department.
Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes said the money will be used to fill two new positions, and to bring a mix of organizations together to develop a statewide economic development plan.
Keyes said the plan will help the economy bounce back from the impact of the pandemic and chart a path to making the state economy more balanced for the next 20 years.
“It’s not only a recovery strategy, but it’s a map for how we’re going to diversify in the future,” Keyes told the Journal.
The virus’ impact on New Mexico will almost certainly be felt for years to come. The pandemic and associated restrictions on travel and gatherings have caused in-store sales to plummet and unemployment to spike across the state.
As of August, New Mexico had lost 70,500 jobs year-over-year, including around one-fourth of the jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector, according to numbers from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. The mining and construction sector, which includes New Mexico’s ever-important oil and gas industry, shed 10,500 jobs over the same period.
“COVID has shown us that we have to, have to, have to diversify,” Keyes said.
Even before the pandemic began, New Mexico had looked for ways to expand the state economy behind the twin pillars of federal government spending and oil and gas. Keyes said any long-term state plan would likely focus on the eight key industries identified by the Economic Development Department, which range from aerospace to advanced agriculture to film and television.
The grant also will be used to fund two state government jobs for three years each.
Keyes said the first position will be a recovery coordinator who connects New Mexico businesses and communities to various recovery resources, from Opportunity Zones to new programs that have sprung up to address the pandemic.
The second position will be at the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, and Keyes said it will support the recruitment of alternative-energy companies, as well as job-training efforts in that area.
Keyes said she expects the plan to be complete within six months.
“The governor wants it yesterday,” Keyes said.