State focuses on rebuilding industry, jobs

When the Great Recession ended in 2009, it took the United States five years to regain lost jobs. In New Mexico, recovery took twice that long, with the state surpassing its pre-recession employment levels just before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the economy to a halt.

It was a lost decade of job growth that stalled upward mobility for workers and families and forced college graduates – New Mexico’s future – to leave the state for opportunities elsewhere.

The reason it took twice as long to recover: New Mexico’s answer to tight budgets was to cut economic development investments in the LEDA fund to almost zero and to suppress funding to New Mexico’s longest and best-rated workforce training program, the Job Training Incentive Program (JTIP).

The current COVID-19 pandemic-induced recession happened faster and is more severe in many ways. While the state lost about 50,000 jobs over two years during the last recession, New Mexico shed 100,000 jobs in just one month, between March and April 2020. Some of those positions have returned, but employment levels are still down 60,000 from the months before COVID-19.

In this new year, we must focus like a laser to bring these jobs back. We must get employees back to work, increase wages and establish economic security for families. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and this administration will accept nothing less.

There is no doubt that the uncertainty from COVID-19 led many businesses to pull back. Still, with support from Lujan Grisham, New Mexico worked hard in 2020 to build momentum for faster job growth.

Through the state Local Economic Development Act (LEDA job-creators fund), the Economic Development Department worked with 18 businesses who made a commitment to create 2,500 jobs in New Mexico. These include Netflix in Albuquerque, Ascent Aviation in Roswell, High Plains Processing in Las Vegas, N.M., Nature’s Toolbox (NTx) in Rio Rancho, Big Tuna in Las Cruces, Savant X in Santa Fe, and SpinLaunch at Spaceport America.

Because of LEDA, companies will invest over $761 million in private money into New Mexico over the next 10 years, and over $150 million in new payroll.

In addition, the Job Training Incentive Program is helping 75 businesses around New Mexico hire new employees or retrain existing workers in 2,380 jobs.

The state is partnering with businesses that will bring jobs in industries that are exciting and growing: biosciences, advanced manufacturing, aerospace, film and television, cybersecurity. The average annual salary for LEDA-created jobs last year was $61,000.

We are attracting new investment from family-owned Asian businesses that want to come to North America and locate in Southern New Mexico’s border zone to diversify their manufacturing chains and be closer to customers.

In the coming 2021 Legislature, the Economic Development Department is asking that our very successful LEDA and JTIP assistance programs be fully funded. We are asking that LEDA be modified so the state can assist with larger projects without pulling back on assistance for smaller home-grown companies.

In addition, Lujan Grisham was one of the first governors to recognize that outdoor recreation can drive job growth to tribal and rural communities. The Economic Development Department is asking for a one-time appropriation of $3.2 million for The Great New Mexico Trails Package so we can leverage matching federal money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to improve trails, outdoor infrastructure and other recreation amenities that make us all healthier.

Another important lesson we’ve learned from the pandemic is that no one person or organization has all the answers. We need to work together to find initiatives that work for each corner of the state. That’s why the department has secured a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to administer a 20-year economic plan for the state.

But we can’t lose another decade. That is why targeted, smart economic development spending is the only way to build back better.

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