How can New Mexico’s economy continue to grow? How do you retain talent here in the state and how do you bring those back who left?
A panel of local experts sought to answer those questions Monday at an event held at the Marriott Albuquerque in Uptown by NAIOP New Mexico, a commercial real estate organization. The event came as the state still battles a relatively low labor force participation rate and as out-of-state businesses continue to expand locally.
“I think the onus is on all of us, really. We’ve got to open our doors and I think we’re really good at that as a small state,” said David Silverman, a qualifying broker with Geltmore.
Opening those doors means looking at transferable skill sets, said Albuquerque Regional Economic Alliance VP of Economic Competitiveness Chad Matheson. That, in itself, is of value to expanding businesses.
But skilling up the workforce from a young age is also vital to the growth of the local economy. That means strong private-public partnerships between local schools — especially universities — and private businesses are likely to show students the career opportunities available in the state, panelists said.
New Mexico Tourism Department Cabinet Secretary Jen Schroer, a panelist at the event, said there has been some success with collaboration of hospitality businesses and educational institutions in Santa Fe with a recent pilot program that matched students with hotel jobs for college credit.
Schroer said the partnership was beneficial for both the students, who got hands-on experience in the hospitality industry and received college credit through Santa Fe Community College, and for the private businesses who were having issues with staffing coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They’re educating our young adults, but I think they have a deep responsibility to our industry and our businesses here in the state,” Schroer said of the role educational institutions play in the strength of the local workforce. Schroer said the state is currently in the process of creating a platform to track where high school and college graduates are leaving to — and possibly using it as a tool to recruit them back.
But New Mexico has long had educated workers leave the state for better opportunities, and panelists said it is in the state’s best interest to bring those people back. Panelists acknowledged there are benefits to some workers leaving; in some cases, those people gain experience and later bring it back to New Mexico.
Experience has made its way to the state recently, as New Mexico saw more than 10,000 educated workers immigrate in the last couple years, according to a recent analysis of federal data by management software company Harrington Group International.
While expanding businesses are more focused on a business-friendly environment — government incentives, a ready and able workforce and a strong housing supply for employees — there are other things like quality of life that matter to people who are thinking about staying or coming to New Mexico for work.
“One, the quality of life; the quality of housing, the diversity of housing,” Matheson said. “But also, what can you do (here)? How can you have fun?”