Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Jobs by County (Revised)

May 2: Aging eyes, compounded by small type, might be excuse. But, whatever... I missed two counties with declining labor forces and employment when originally doing this entry. They were Luna and Los Alamos. Something about Ls, perhaps. The totals are corrected. The March county figures still aren't posted.
In one respect—the unemployment rate—New Mexico's counties present a happy picture. The March figures were supposed to be posted today (4/30), but weren't, so we'll made do with February. The figures are not seasonally adjusted. For February, only one county—Luna at 12.7%—had an unemployment rate greater than 10%. Three others broke 5% unemployment—Mora, 8.2%; Catron, 5.2%; and Guadalupe, 5.1%. 
Taking the glasses off to squint at the small type in the Labor Market Review unveils a possibly different picture. In 15 of the state's 33 counties the labor force declined between February 2007 and February 2008. That may mean people have moved away from the county, which certainly is the case for Quay County which has a years-long decline in population. In other counties, people are sticking around but have quit looking for work. Eight of the 15 counties also show a drop in employment. The other seven, where employment has grown, report a nice drop in the unemployment rate, the statistic that the Department of Workforce Solutions likes to trumpet in its monthly news release.
Three of the counties with a smaller labor force are in the four-county Albuquerque metro. The three are Bernalillo, Torrance and Valencia. The total decline is less than 300. Still, it is down.
All three show increased employment.
The three largest of the other ten counties with a smaller labor force are McKinley, Otero and Rio Arriba. Employment increased in McKinley and dropped in Otero and Rio Arriba. The six other  counties with both a drop in labor force and employment are Catron, Colfax, Guadalupe, Los Alamos, Luna and Quay. The labor force shrank and employment grew in Roosevelt, San Miguel and Union counties.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Economic Development

The new issue of EconSouth, a publication of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, offers a good summary of economic development. The title is, "Southern States Ply the Art of the Deal." Go to and look for EconSouth in the Regional Spotlight box in the upper left corner. For a company to locate in one place as opposed to another, the article says, "The first factor that must be in place is a suitable location with the right access and infrastructure, economic development experts say, along with a good labor pool, low business costs, and a decent quality of life." Incentives such as industrial revenue bonds, while a widely accepted part of economic development, come at the margin "when other factors are the same." Whether incentive packages work economically or are just subsidies, the debate among economists is review with no conclusion beyond noting that "States try to lure jobs, using whatever means work best."
In defining economic development in the technical sense—attracting companies—the article emphasizes a point that is nearly always confused in economic development discussions in New Mexico. The distinction is that below a certain size community, "economic development" simply doesn't apply. For economic development and for Elida, Roy and Cuba, "There is no there, there," as Gertrude Stein said 71 years ago of Oakland, California.
The discussion should be about "developing the economy."  An attempt to grapple with the problem came in the background document for the recent New Mexico First town hall on "rural-urban economic development." New Mexico First accepted the Census Bureau definition that "urban" means a metropolitan statistical area, of which there are four in New Mexico, and everything else is rural. Well, there is rural and there is rural, as the document admitted, allowing that the challenges of Roy and Elida were different than for "less rural" communities such as Gallup. I haven't seen the recommendations from the town hall yet, but will comment when I do. 
Accepting the standard rural/urban distinction also overlooks some situations that are a function of New Mexico having large counties. Cuba, for example, though very rural (as NM First puts it), is part of metro Albuquerque and therefore outside the town hall's purview. So is Sunland Park, a small somewhat rural city that is part of metro Las Cruces.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Job Growth: March

The employment news for March was the unemployment news. New Mexico's unemployment rate kicked up half a point from 3.2% in February to 3.7% in March, the level of a year ago. The Department of Workforce Solutions, keeper of the job numbers, claims the new unemployment percentage was "not far above January's record low of 3.1%." I'd hate to see a change in percentage that DWS considers "far above" the 19% jump in the rate.
Year-over-year job growth for March was 0.6%, numerically "not far above" February's 0.4% growth and the same rate of nearly no growth that has been the case for several months.
Job growth percentages for three metro areas remain above the state's performance. From March 2007 to March 2008, metro job growth was:
Albuquerque: 0.3%.
Santa Fe: 1.4%.
Las Cruces: 1.6%.
Farmington: 3.5%.
Metro Albuquerque construction has lost jobs for 15 consecutive months. Manufacturing employment has dropped for ten months.
Yesterday, April 24, the same day as the March job figures were released, the Albuquerque Journal reported the semi-annual "Economy Watch" from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico. The BBER report, which was "commissioned" by the Journal, used year-end figures that showed 1% annual job growth, about twice the rate of the past few months.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sprawling Growth Words

Aided by two environmental organizations, the left side of the Albuquerque city council treated us yesterday to a new standard in the always creative use of words about land use policy. "Many" was one of the many unsubstantiated words in the Albuquerque Journal op-ed by councillors Issac Benton, Michael Cadigan and Rey Garduno. The group was arguing against Tax Increment Development District policy, which is a way to pay for infrastructure development on large new projects. One of the "many" uses was in the first paragraph, "Many decisions guiding Albuquerque's transportation and land use trends over the past several decades have contributed to sprawl, loss of open space, global warming and poor air quality." The number of such horrendous decisions is, of course, not provided.
The piece offered a new item of rhetorical jargon—"working landscapes"—with the assertion that such landscapes are disappearing.  When I discover the meaning of the term, I'll try to get an idea about what the alleged disappearance means. 
Among the new words, an old trope appeared, the charge that open space is disappearing along with those valued "working landscapes." This is a standard charge in spite of the obvious nonsense of the claim to anyone in an airplane. What is disappearing is open space at the edges of cities and therefore some level of convenience in getting to that open space. The complaint, therefore, is about some level of deterioration in having one's cake (ease of getting to open space) and eating it (living in the virtuous central city).

Monday, April 21, 2008

Legislative Finance Committee

This week's meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee looks to be boring, at least for the large block of us who go into brain freeze mode at the appearance of even the slightest hint of financial complexity. The importance of the meeting looms as large as the speed with which may eyes may glaze. Topic A will be the Retiree Health Care Authority and its solvency, which is eroding rapidly as such things erode. Tomas Rodriguez, acting executive director of the Authority opens the meeting at 9:00 A.M. The Authority is one of several state agencies with large negative numbers looming in its future and few prospects about where to get the money.
In the LFC's newsletter, released this morning, committee chair Sen. John Arthur Smith explains, "Without intervention, the authority fund could be bankrupt could be bankrupt in five or six years." The authority pays for the health care of "tens of thousands of New Mexicans," Smith says.
A legislative fix was proposed during the 2008 legislature but failed "in the wake of vociferous objections of the retirees now receiving care under the plan.
Other agenda items cover the effects of the credit crunch on state borrowing and investment. The agenda is at
The meeting is tomorrow, April 21, through April 24 in the Capitol in Santa Fe, room 322.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Arizona Outlook (& Real Estate)

"Arizona's economy is one of the most cyclical in the nation as measured by the difference between growth during expansions and recessions," writes Marshall Vest in the spring 2008 issue of Arizona's Economy. Much of this has to do with real estate, which seems, in Arizona, to be regarded as "an industry" standing alone in the economy just like manufacturing. Real estate is cyclical to start. But in Arizona, when real estate booms, it really booms. And vice versa, which is where Arizona is now. 
In New Mexico, real estate is cyclical, but seems a little more grounded. People I talk to in the business understand that real estate depends on other things, namely growing population and employment. Today New Mexico is in the middle of one of its widest economic swings in memory—from record job growth of 3.6% in mid-2006 to around zero today. Normally, the state's ups and downs are of less distance, which may explain the relative steadiness of real estate. Figures from the Realtors Association of New Mexico for 19 areas of the state show sales were down during 2007 from 2006 in all but two areas. Grants and Gallup were the exceptions. However, prices increased in 16 areas. 
Arizona expects job losses during 2008 and 2009.
Unlike New Mexico and nearly everywhere else, the peak home selling time in the hot parts of Arizona is during the spring—March and April. For us, summer, when families can move without disrupting the school year, marks the peak home selling period.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Eclipse & Santa Fe Institute

In the current (May) issue of The Atlantic, national correspondent James Fallows revisits the tale of small, relatively inexpensive jet aircraft revolutionizing air travel. As with his report of seven years ago, Fallows says lots of nice things about Eclipse Aviation of Albuquerque, which announced its move here in 2000. However, the story is through the window of DayJet Corporation of Boca Raton, Florida. DayJet calls itself "the world's first per-seat on-demand jet service, an entirely new approach to regional business mobility."
The trick, though, is to define "region" and have an idea when and where people might go. Economically, it wouldn't work to go quite "anywhere" at quite "any time," at least not without substantial price adjustment for more obscure places and times. Here another New Mexico element, very sophisticated data analysis, enters the picture. Before joining DayJet five years ago, Jim Herriott and Bruce Sawhill spent five years associated with the Santa Fe Institute, the non-linear dynamics research outfit that is more the center of many networks instead of a contained place. Using "agent-based modeling," Herriott and Sawhill simulated the decisions made by the 500,000 people each day who go on business trips of 100 miles or more in DayJet's initial region of seven southeastern states. 
So far, so good. DayJet has been flying since September 2007.
For the Santa Fe Institute, see For the story, see

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Rich and Poor

In my syndicated newspaper column, to appear during next two weeks in seven papers around the state, I analyze a report from a couple of liberal advocacy groups saying that the income of "the rich," the highest 20% of earners, has grown faster than the lowest 20% of earners. "So," was my response. One argument was that the report really didn't mean anything because our society is dynamic, meaning that the composition of the earning groups changes, and the changing composition of the earning groups means they can't be compared. 
Support for the notion of a dynamic society from PNC Wealth Management, part of The PNC Financial Services Group. Each year PNC surveys Americans with more than $500,000 of investable assets. The newest survey (see, released yesterday, says that 60% of the respondents made their money by the old fashioned way—through work, business ownership or investments. Only 6% inherited their money and 25% had both inheritance and investments. What the survey means is the 69%—those earning their money—were at one point not in the highest earning group. In fact, it's a safe bet that some were in the lowest group. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rural Economic Development

Meeting about developing the economy in the rural parts of New Mexico are a tradition. The past few weeks have seen gatherings in Tucumcari and Ruidoso. What these meetings accomplish, I have long wondered.
It is good, therefore, to see action that will produce jobs, however few. Last week's edition of the Socorro-based Mountain Mail reported that Jim Kellar and George Barreras, who own and run K&B Timberworks of reserve have scored $250,000 from the federal Department of Agriculture. The money will enable them to buy what is called a "scragg mill" for high production processing of wood from tree less than a foot in diameter. Such trees are considered "small diameter." The Gila National Forest is involved in the deal. Kellar descries the production technique as low impact, leaving few visible stumps.
Kellar and Barreras will hire five employees. The new equipment should be on site by September.
Logging was the Catron County economic staple until 1991 when spotted owl fears shut down the last sawmill. 
In January, Catron County had 1,369 people employed and a 5.3% unemployment rate, third highest in the state, according to the Department of Workforce Solutions. 

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Service: Seriously

Richard Celeste, president of Colorado College in Colorado Springs, came to Albuquerque today to consider, as he titled his talk, "Service in Our Changing World." Celeste's presentation was part of the Jack and Joanna Grevey Visiting Scholar for Democracy series at Albuquerque Academy. A hundred or so people took the time from their Sunday afternoon.
Celeste has a long resume of service, starting with being an assistant to the American ambassador to India in the 1960s. He was ambassador to India from 1997 to 2001. In between he was director of the Peace Corps and governor of Ohio.
Celeste's view of service is of what he calls "deep service," a distinction he didn't quite draw until the question time. He was talking about getting one's hands dirty, doing it right, and changing things. A key to his approach is a dictum from his grandmother, "To whom much is given, much is expected." Celeste's deep service has three parts:
* Learning about what one is going to do, preparing to understand what will and will not work.
* Sharing: Service is successful when it involves sharing skills. And, finally,
* Advocating: The final step, he said, is talking about what has been done in the service project/arena. One has the obligation, he said.
Fo the nation, Celeste said, there is a sense of unease in the country that is different from 15 or 20 years ago. "We've got to capture our own sense of self confidence."
Finally, gladdening the heart, he called "sustainability" a "very enthusiastic buzzword." 
Colorado College has long drawn a core of students from New Mexico. It is one of two colleges fitting these four criteria:
* Small, quality, liberal arts college.
* In the west.
* In a geographically congenial place.
* Near skiing.
The other college meeting these measures is St. John's College in Santa Fe.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Politics: Clarity

Once in a while several news reports appear and together illuminate an issue. So it was Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, April 1 and 2, with three stories. Here is the issue was clarity in political matters, saving us the trouble of listening to reports and then saying, "what really is happening here is..."
The April 1 story, but no April Fool here, was the report of a decision in Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez' legal challenge to mayoral term limits. Until the March 31 decision, the rule had been that Albuquerque's mayor only got two terms. Chavez sued the city January 3, seeking to dump the restriction and won. Now a mayor suing the city he leads certainly is a decidedly odd situation, but, oh well. Normally, I think, such provisions are changed by agreement of the legislative and executive bodies of the government unit. Also, normally, such changes specify that no one holding office at the time of the deal benefits. Not here. Chavez can run for a third term, a possibility he is obfuscating. Chavez said, "It brings clarity to the landscape, and I've had a lot of folks encouraging me to seek and additional term.
An April 1, Gov. Bill Richardson said in Washington, D.C., that if asked to accept a position in a Democratic administration, "I must consider it." Ah, yeah. Clarity again.
More clarity came when the state Republican party establishment officially unveiled its support of Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White in the primary race for the congressional nomination in the 1st Congressional District. The point here is that parties are supposed to stay out of primaries. The fact of this support was well known, even if not previously
acknowledged. Indeed, a White candidacy for something above sheriff in been in the works for a long time. It seems that parties can't spend money in support of primary candidates, but from the non-legal view here, that seems a distinction without a difference. A phone call, a phone call there.... An illuminating chat came a few years ago with an Albuquerque businessman who considered a race for governor in 2002. To the race, the businessman would have brought intelligence, experience, good looks and a lot of his own money. He paid the obligatory call on then GOP Chairman John Dendahl who made it quite clear that party support was going to eventual nominee John Sanchez. End of candidacy. So even though the GOP's official support for White is inappropriate, score some points for clarity.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Uranium Journalism

Last week the Washington Post ran a 20-paragraph article about new uranium development in New Mexico. The article began with a three paragraph set up, saying there is renewed interest in uranium mining in the state, that "at least five companies are seeking state permits to mine," and that mining could produce a bunch of jobs. The next 11 paragraphs recount, via anecdote—not data—the purported evils done especially to Navajos by the decades ago uranium mining. After a neutral transition paragraph, Uranium Resources Inc. executives get five paragraphs for the company / industry view.
Along the way, Post reporter Kari Lyderson describes wacko enviro outfit Southwest Research and Information Center with stupendous understatement as "a nonprofit public interest group that focuses on energy development and natural resources." The anecdotes are colorful. "Steers would turn yellow," one man told Lyderson. Another man blames ""recent health problems on uranium." Lyderson indicates without quite explicitly stating that the man's uranium work ended in 1982. Again, she offers no data, no medical records.
Lyderson and the Post certainly would claim no agenda. Do the math, review the structure of the story. Make up your own mind. The story ran March 28 on page A02.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Job Growth: February

Job growth statewide continues to slow, a difficult achievement given that wage employment increased a mere 0.5% from January 2007 to January 2008. But the growth rate dropped to 0.4% from February 2007 through February 2008, according to the March 27 news release from the Department of Workforce Solutions.
The DWS release starts with the good news, the state's continuing low unemployment rate which was 3.2% in February, up a tick from January's record low of 3.1%. DWS' approach in constructing the news release is good public relations, if a little surreal. The second paragraph mentions the job growth rate. In the third paragraph, DWS asserts, with no apparent tongue in cheek, "the New Mexico economy remains resilient," perhaps because "we continue to add jobs." Well, sort of.
The economic tracking wizard of Colorado, Tucker Adams, suggests four reasons for the unemployment rate failing to fall much in the face of slowing job growth:
* Undocumented workers messing up the data both for job growth and job losses.
* Dropping labor force participation.
* Fewer jobs being created than show in the numbers because of estimating procedures.
* More part time jobs.
Job growth rates in the state's four metro areas suggest that rural areas may be losing jobs. The metro growth rates are: Albuquerque, 0.8%; Farmington, 2.8%; Las Cruces, 1.8%, Santa Fe, 1.6%. 
In January, a 2008 job growth forecast of 1.6% for 2008 was issued by the semi-secret For-unm Economic Forecasting Service of the University of New Mexico's Bureau of Business and Economic Research. Clearly that isn't going to happen.