Friday, February 27, 2009

Economy: Some Good News

A bit over a week ago, there were 1.5 items of good news for the New Mexico economy.
The full item of good news is that Louisiana Energy Services' National Enrichment Facility near Eunice received its first shipment of uranium, a 70-lb batch that will be used to equipment at the plant that will refine uranium hexaflouride for use as fuel in nuclear reactors. Plans are for full operations by year-end.
The half an item is that Gov. Bill Richardson unveiled six proposed modifications to regulations covering the pits (or tanks) next to well that hold the very salty water and chemicals used to lubricate wells during drilling. Industry people have said for months that the Pit Rule, which went into effect in June 2008, add about $250,000 to the cost of drilling a well in New Mexico with the result of driving new drilling to other states. The proposed modifications get only half an item of good news because the culture of the Richardson administration, starting with the governor, is against drilling. So we'll see.
The modifications are outlined in a news release in the announcements section on the website of the Oil Conservation Division,

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Legislature: Capitol Crowds

I have seen a report or two that the Capitol is very quiet this year. The usual crowds haven't shown for the Legislature. My brief observation around 4 p.m. yesterday says this is true. Walking through the rotunda after dropping copies of the February issue of Capitol Report New Mexico, it dawned on me that no one was there. I checked with the women who provide Capitol tours during the session. Yes, traffic was down, they said. They couldn't say how much since they don't count. But, yes, they are providing fewer tours this year. As I visited with the tour guides, I looked to the east foyer. Two senior lobbyists were the only people in what usually is a packed space during the session.
There are fewer bills this year, for sure. Fewer controversial bills, perhaps? Less budget money to bring school kids to the Capitol, perhaps?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Surveys: Movies, McCune and NM Community Capital

Earlier today into the email inbox there popped a survey that claimed to "take approximately 20 minutes of your valuable time." The survey was said to be a joint effort of the McCune Foundation, which sometimes does odd stuff, and New Mexico Community Capital, which, in my limited experience, lies among the good guys. The response here comes from a long, if peripheral, association with survey research. the movie comment is t the end.
The McCune/NMCC survey claimed to be "market research targeted at a statewide examination of the Strengths and Gaps/Opportunities in the New Mexico entrepreneurial ecosystems."
The "20 minute" part wasn't true. Whether it was a lie or an error, I can't say. But completing the survey, all ten pages or so, would have required at least an hour. The survey began with, "Which of the following categories best describes your role in the New Mexico Ecosystem?" One category was "C-level manager." Define please.
The next four asked the respondent to "rank the top 5 current industries that you associate with New Mexico." One "industry" was "food Services." Define please. Restaurants? Then the request was to rank the top five fastest growing, fastest declining and "most strategic industries that you associate with future growth in New Mexico." Food services only made the first of the four questions.
These questions are hard. Thought is required, even for someone like me with knowledge of the numbers.
It got better.
The survey went on to a detailed investigation of the respondent's knowledge of New Mexico Community Capital and of technology transfer and capital structures in the state. No regular person could provide meaningful answers without having spent a fair amount of time in the middle the topic. I suspect that few people have heard of New Mexico Community Capital.
There was no indication that the survey was going to a sample. I suspect the audience consisted of a bunch of email addresses accumulated over time. If that guess is correct, the responses will mean only that they are the responses to the survey. Nothing may be imputed from the survey. I look forward to seeing the news release about the results.
Recently the New Mexico Film Office released a study of the economic impacts of filming in New Mexico that purports to counter last year's report from New Mexico State University saying the film subsidies were a big-time loser. The new study, produced by an outfit with a huge vested interest in favorable news, totals data gleaned from a variety of sources and surveys, which I think is statistically dubious, to claim a positive return on the subsidy. The problem is that differing surveys have differing things happening with the probability theory and therefore the results can't be added. I may be wrong as to whether this notion applies to the new movie survey.
In any case, the survey summary has a wonderful line. It says "the length of the average tourist’s stay in New Mexico increased by 1.2% due to interest in" film attractions. OK, so what is "the average tourist’s stay in New Mexico?" And if the stay is 100 hours, the average increases an hour, a statistically insignificant length of time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Intel: Rebuilding Again

Constant innovation is the rule for the semiconductor industry. In keeping with this rule, yesterday Intel Corporation announced plans to spend $7 billion remodeling semiconductor fabrication plants in Rio Rancho and in Oregon and Arizona. "Remodeling" is hardly the word. The concept is more like raising the building, taking out all the old equipment and installing new, more expensive stuff. Intel rebuilds its manufacturing facilities every few years. The most recent project in Rio Rancho was in 2007.
Intel will spend about $2.5 billion at its Rio Rancho facility. The result of the projects will be introduction of the industry’s first 32-nanometer computer architecture. In announcing the projects, Intel said, “The technology used in (the) manufacturing process builds chip circuitry 32nm (32/billionth of a meter or about 1/millionth of an inch) across – incredibly small, atomic level structures.” The resulting chips will be faster, smaller and use less energy. That is Moore's Law in action—more capacity in the chip and lower price.
In Rio Rancho, the project will require more than 1,000 construction workers. Intel employs more than 3,000 in Rio Rancho.
Some other Rio Rancho details were overlooked in news reports, perhaps due to lack of institutional memory.
The chips with the 32-nanometer wide circuits go on silicon wafers that are 300 millimeters in diameter or nearly ten inches, if I've correctly done the math. In 1983, I got a six-inch wafer from Intel. It is a framed and incredibly antique trophy on the wall.
This new project will bring to about $15 billion the amount of money Intel will have spent in Rio Rancho since 1995. Intel has one "fab" or fabrication facility in Rio Rancho. There used to be several.
Intel still has contract workers on site in numbers approximately equal to Intel's employment. Thus, the Rio Rancho site is responsible for about 6,000 jobs, half of which are paid with Intel checks.
This coming rebuilding of the Rio Rancho plant was done because of Intel's happiness with the metro Albuquerque labor force. That was the same reason Intel came to town in first place.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Election Overturned: Amendment 4

Well, not exactly. But if a clear majority of voters, just shy of 75%, in an election vote one way or the other, then people can be forgiven for thinking those votes should have something to do with the outcome of the election. But in the case of proposed constitutional amendment 4 in the November 2008 general election, it turns out the naive assumptions about voter preference don't apply. The Las Cruces Sun-News today has an excellent Associated Press story reviewing the devil hidden n the details of the presumed passage of amendment 4. The amendment would have moved school board elections from the present preposterous date of the first Tuesday in February to the date of other non-artisan elections.
Approval of the proposal came from 74.48% of the voters, just under the 75% required for approval of this type of proposal. Even approval votes from a few more folks statewide might not have passed the amendment because of another requirement—that approval also come from two-thirds of the voters in each county. Fewer than two-thirds of the voters in Mora and Harding counties favored amendment 4. The two approval thresholds were put into the constitution to protect Hispanics interests, the story said. Such protection seems a good idea in general and probably was a very good idea at the time.
1. While the AP story didn't say, it is a reasonable guess that proponents didn't do their homework.
2. The outcome puts yet another spotlight on the dubious rationale behind the continued existence of Harding County, population around 750.
3. While the intent of the restriction may well have been worthy nearly 100 years ago when the constitution was written, today the failure of amendment 4 hurts HIspanics and all other New Mexicans by making it more difficult to capture control of the schools from entrenched interests who know how to play the election game in the dark and cold of February. That's because the point of moving the elections was to get more folks involved. That the failure was due to niggling details that bubbled through to the collective consciousness of the Secretary of State only five months later makes it worse.
4. Our constitution is frightfully easy to amend. I think that most of the amendments don't really matter. This one would have been a real improvement. The manner of the failure is another argument in favor of a constitutional convention.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Commuting in New Mexico

The average metro Albuquerque commute is 23.4 minutes, the Census Bureau reports. The national average commute is 25.1 minutes. Within the metro, Rio Rancho residents are the big commuters with an average of 28.1 minutes, a third more than the 21 minute commute for those living in the city of Albuquerque. The average commute in the city of Las Cruces is 16.3 minutes. In Santa Fe, the city, it is 18.4 minutes.
Metro Albuquerque commuters drive a little less than in Tucson, Arizona, and a minute more than in Colorado Springs. The commuting figures are an average of annual estimates from 2005 to 2007.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pueblos, Spaniards and the Kingdom of New Mexico

In his new book, John Kessell provides a short, readable and interesting history of the early years in New Mexico. Pueblos, Spaniards and the Kingdom of New Mexico should be part of the library of anyone interested in the complexities of New Mexico.
Kessell starts with a summary of the pueblo world before the Spaniards appeared in 1540 and in 185 pages brings the story to 1760. New Mexico's poverty is a recurring theme. So is coexistence. "Even while sharing blood and traits, Pueblos and Spaniards have chosen, or been forced, to recognize the cultural identity of the other—living together yet apart. Their intricate dance through time, especially passionate in the seventeenth century, bids us to look closer."
In the spirit even handedness, Kessell even challenges the received wisdom of a New Mexico story—the alleged mutilation of Acomas by Spaniards after the Spanish conquered Acoma in a five-day battle in January 1599. The sentence was that all Acoma men over 25 were to "have one foot severed and then be bound to personal servitude for 20 years." Kessell's questioning starts with the record. The Spanish were big on documentation, even when it reflected poorly on the Spanish. Kessell knows this. He has spent his career reading the record. The record supporting actual execution of the punishment is sketchy. Besides, he notes, mutilating one's slaves makes little sense. In any case, most Acomas had run off from the Spanish within a few years, a difficult task with only one foot. Kessell writes, "Spaniards may indeed have performed the maimings, but a close reading of the documents raises reasonable doubt." In a footnote, Kessell says his view has attracted severe critics.
Pueblos, Spaniards and the Kingdom of New Mexico has 23 pages of note and bibliography. The book is published by the University of Oklahoma Press ( and costs $24.95. One can order through the Web site or call 1-800-627-7377.