FARMINGTON – State leaders see a new future for Farmington as a potential hub for outdoor products and activities, after decades of reliance on extractive industries.
During the New Mexico Outdoor Economics Conference in Farmington this week, officials touted the northwest New Mexico city as a potential poster child for the state’s transformation from an economy based on oil and gas to a multi-pronged approach that includes outdoor recreation.
Due in part to closures and cutbacks in the oil and gas industry, Farmington has lagged behind other cities in job recovery in 2021, with an unemployment rate of 9.3% in July, the highest among the state’s four metropolitan statistical areas.
During the event, however, Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett highlighted the city’s growing outdoor industry footprint. While Farmington lacks the industry presence seen in Durango, Colorado, 50 miles north, Duckett said the city welcomed its first river rafting guides this past year, and has several cycling shops along its revamped Main Street.
“We’re here trying to figure out how we key into the outdoor recreation movement that’s happening all over the mountain state area,” Duckett said.
Several hundred New Mexicans flooded to Farmington for the three-day conference, which highlighted the progress the state’s small-but-growing outdoor industry has made. The fourth annual event, led by nonprofit Outdoor New Mexico, was designed to advance economic development strategies related to New Mexico’s public lands, featured panel discussions on a range of outdoor topics.
Several state leaders, including New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard and Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Alicia Keyes were on hand to discuss the state of the industry, which includes businesses from ski resorts to bike manufacturers.
“In New Mexico, we have a tradition and a heritage of the outdoors,” Garcia Richard said. “We’ve got people who have been living on this land for thousands of years, and that’s a real deep part of our identity.”
Other leaders, including Sen. Martin Heinrich and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, spoke virtually at the conference.
Axie Navas, director of the state’s Outdoor Recreation Division, said the industry contributed $2.4 billion to the state’s economy in 2019. While more current data is not yet available, individual businesses have reported booming sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, when state and local lockdowns, along with fear of contracting the virus, pushed New Mexicans outdoors.
Despite the growth, Keyes added that the industry lags well behind some of its neighboring states’ in terms of overall impact. In Colorado, for example, Keyes said the outdoor industry contributes around $12 billion annually.
In part because of that, Keyes said the current administration has identified outdoor recreation as a target industry for New Mexico, one that aligns with the state’s strengths while helping diversify the state’s economy outside of oil and gas.
“It’s been a real pleasure to have that north star,” Keyes said.
During the event, panels covered a wide array of topics related to the industry, ranging from small business funding resources to trail development. Attendees from around the state expressed interest in finding ways to grow the industry inclusively. To that end, Navas and other leaders highlighted the state’s Outdoor Equity Fund, which launched last year to fund programs that help underserved populations access the outdoors.
“The Outdoor Equity Fund has leveled the playing field for so many of us,” said Ray Trejo, Southern New Mexico Outreach Coordinator for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, during a panel discussion on equity.