Monday, July 31, 2017

What Happened to Albuquerque?

A couple of weeks ago a friend asked what had happened to Albuquerque. We had been discussing the city’s “situation.” What follows is an edited version of my response with names deleted to protect the guilty and the innocent.

I still lack a good answer, but here are a few thoughts.
1. Intel peaked around 1994 with 5,700 employees plus about that many contractors. Phillips, DEC. and Signetics went away. The support firms for the “Silicon Mesa” went away. The data analytics business in Santa Fe didn’t grow much and then faded
2. The Abq-based public companies went away: Diagnostek, Santa Fe Pacific Gold, Nuclear Pharmacy, Furr’s Supermarkets (probably not much net job loss there as we still have to have supermarkets), Sun Healthcare (run by Andy Turner).
3. Jerry Geist was finally run out of PNM in 1990, but PNM struggled for years and Abq operations remain well below the scale of when they filled two downtown buildings.
4. The banks got in trouble in the late 1980s. Sunwest was taken over by Boatmen’s around 1994 and then Boatmen’s was swallowed by Bank of America. BofA laid me off from Sunwest in 1997. Over time BofA let the NM operations erode. I don’t know why, but I have watched the numbers. Administrative functions went to staff of the big banks in larger markets. The local administrative and banking staff such as loan officers retired or left town or went to credit unions such as Sandia Labs FCU. Getting loans became more difficult. BofA keeps their trust-related attorneys in a cave in Phoenix. (long story.) Bank of Abq runs advertising and marketing from Tulsa, home to poppa, the Bank of Oklahoma.
5. The banks have largely left downtown Abq. The Hyatt was the last big building in downtown. 20 years ago.
6. The contractor population at Sandia is down.
7. The auto dealer chains are a big factor with little interest in community, at least as compared to when the stores were owned by locals.

We have become a community of branch plants (a state really). Look at the boards of the Abq Chamber and ACI. They are heavily populated by corporate government relations types, who will have no authority to take any action. Lawyers and healthcare types dominate the ACI executive committee.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Albuquerque Journal's Denver Envy

The following is a letter to the editor of the Albuquerque Journal. It was submitted in reaction to the Journal's editorial today and to the articles in the Business Outlook section that ran July 24.

The Journal asks what Denver has that Albuquerque doesn’t. Well, size to start.
Colorado’s 2016 population was 5.5 million. New Mexico’s was 2.1 million. Denver’s seven-county metro is 3.07 million. Albuquerque had 909,000 in 2016. Add 144,000 for Santa Fe.
Because of the population difference, comparing job growth (between June 2016 and June 2017 Colorado added 54,900 jobs versus New Mexico’s 19,300) is disingenuous, even wrong.
Larger size brings agglomeration, which means that more economic activity happens in the larger population metro area. There are economics of scale.
Denver is the major leagues (Broncos, Rockies, Nuggets, Avalanche). Albuquerque is AAA. The more appropriate comparison is with relatively isolated AAA cities: Des Moines, Omaha, Tucson, Tulsa. The Journal ignores this.
The Economic Innovation Group ( of Washington, D.C., says New Mexico “began the 1990s as a classic western knowledge economy that appeared primed for continued growth. But, with no major metro area and a relatively undiversified technology sector, the state fell further and further behind its neighbors over the years that followed.”
EIG also says that by percentage just four states have more people leaving.
Workers go to Colorado, says the Department of Workforce Solutions in the June Labor Market Review, 3,903 between 2007 and 2015, an outflow behind only Texas.
Denver offers a different dynamic, as the Journal’s anecdotes illustrate. My brother Tom moved to Denver in 1998 after deciding Coloradans were decent, professional and paid regularly.
It’s a puzzle, the Journal editorializes, one that “New Mexico has to put together.” The puzzle includes a host of systemic issues. An independent public policy institute would be one tool for the sorting. See for more.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Policy Issues Confronting New Mexico Today

Revised 2017. Prepared for discussion by Harold Morgan, syndicated columnist

Some major institutional issues (including the usual suspects, such as water, agriculture and energy) are listed alphabetically:
• A majority of Hispanics tracing their heritage to Mexico, a change revealed by the 2010 census. Cultural differences with traditional northern Hispanics.
• A state economy crossing multiple sectors and therefore not usefully measured. Generally we do science (labs to Intel) and work deriving from the land and culture (tourism, agriculture, literature, the Museum of New Mexico). Pure national defense (Holloman, Cannon) is a separate, smaller sector.
Economic activity should be identified to include everything associated with the business. Mines and smelters should go together. Aggregating everything involved with agriculture might take the sector from two percent of the economy to nine percent.
Comprehensive arts sector study released in 2014 indicates measurement approach as does the 2015 Borderplex Strategic Plan.
• Broadband (transportation of information).
• Environmentalist politics.
• Financial institution capability and role of community banks. Dodd-Frank regulations increase costs and constrain lending, more so in smaller communities.
• “Government dependence.” “Too much,” it is always alleged. In New Mexico federal activities are appropriate—border administration, land management, Indian affairs (see Native American, below). Research, itself widely varied. Military. Culture creates process orientation.
• Labor force participation. Low for decades. We are among the lowest four states in the ratio of employment to population. We don’t work. Why?
• Land use and ownership. The private sector is the biggest owner of land in the state with 44 percent. The feds own about a third of the state—34.3 percent—with the state at 12 percent and tribes with 9.4 percent. Private land ownership ranges from 6 percent in San Juan County to 93 percent in Curry County. These are old numbers and may have changed a little.
• Land use policies in Albuquerque that have largely eliminated available property for industrial buildings.
• Native American. Tribes, comprising almost ten percent of New Mexicans, are said to consider themselves ignored, not “at the table.” The Traditional Cultural Property dispute, fundamentally about theology and bureaucracy, has a major land use component. (See PERC Reports, Summer / Fall 2012, or Custodial “trust” relationship with federal government, besides being racist, inhibits reservation economic activity.
• New Mexico as the nation’s number two majority-minority state.
• Non-employee businesses. Who are they? What do they do?
• Northern counties as “rural ghetto,” a result in part from the “romantic” idealization imported and promoted by Mabel Dodge Lujan a century ago.
• Population change driven by new babies. Adults provide the smaller portion of our population growth. But adults are the ones who pay taxes. Babies consume taxes. Increasing movement to other states. Population decline in 2014 and 2015 and flat in 2016 as new babies offset departures.
• Technology transfer: Being in the national defense business with an emphasis on nuclear limits development of an entrepreneurial culture. Some technology heads to the private sector. Los Alamos National Laboratory has recently restructured its approach.
• New Mexico’s Constitution. And how well does state government function from a operational standpoint?
• Transportation – highways, that is. Nine figure gap between desired construction and maintenance and money available.
• Underground or shadow economy. The only available estimate says 9.1% of New Mexico’s gross state product operates “off the books.” Where are these people? Aspects: cash only, no regular healthcare, no use of banks, inability to grow businesses. See Non-employee businesses.
• Uneducated young people. That our kids can’t read is bad enough. History courses appear to be process. Knowing the facts—who won the particular war—is necessary before the processes. A high school catalogue calls New Mexico history a semester-long survey “with an emphasis on the 20th century to the present.” The 17th, 18th and 19th centuries don’t count much.
The economics course cites “government agencies” as the first player in the “allocation of scarce resources and the economic reasoning.” People are mentioned but not markets.
• A generation or two of uneducated young people outside the system, trained by circumstances in avoiding work, and in violence and abuse and destined to pass along this scary heritage.
• Communication: Perhaps the biggest challenge. New Mexico is a big state with 77.9 million acres, or 121,335 square miles. Just over half of us live in the north central Rio Grande Valley from Belen to Velarde. The rest of us live everywhere else.
Events in one corner of the state fail to penetrate the other corner. The private sector might step up here.

Public Policy Institute Summarized


A Public Policy Institute for New Mexico July 2017
(prepared by Harold Morgan, syndicated columnist,

Purpose / Mission: To inject into the public dialogue substantive, rigorous analysis of the policy challenges facing the state backed by a communications program to ensure the policy alternatives posed get attention from citizen and political leaders.

Present Need: A business plan. Estimated cost, $20,000 plus travel.

Outcome(s)/Products: Immediate product will be rigorous exploration of issues facing the state. Intermediate: Policy actions responding to issues/problems addressed in institute report. Over time: Improvements in key measures: education, economy, institutional structures.

Stakeholders: Children. Governor and legislature (independently developed policies). People involved in policy. Institute members and financial supporters. Media (something to report). Civic and business leaders.

Structure: Private, non-partisan, non-profit. Staff: One or two.
Operating budget: $150,000. Issue research: $50,000 to $150,000 per project depending on scope.
Financing: Member dues, grants, foundations, corporate. (Fundraising professional assumed)
Board: Leading policy professionals such as senior faculty from UNM & NMSU, economics & political Science. State government senior economist (LFC?).
Activity: Two to four research reports per year. Unveiled at two conferences per year.
Communications follow up to research reports: continuous.

Marketing: Mostly free media (newspapers, TV), social media for continuing public contact.

Models: North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research (; Morrison Institute for Public Policy, Arizona State University; Renewing the Creative Economy of New Mexico (Arts Study), Department of Cultural Affairs, 2014. State-level policy institutes are common. Most advance an ideological agenda.

Issues: Demographics, economy, broadband, environmental, financial institution, “government dependence,” labor force/work, land use and ownership, Native American, non-employee businesses, technology transfer, state constitution, transportation (highways), underground economy, education, communication/media.

Abq Jobs Up 2% June-to-June. Workers Moving to Colorado

Metro Albuquerque added 7,600 wage jobs for a 2% increase from June 2016 to June 2017. Not bad, pretty good actually for us, but short of the stellar 2.3% and 19,300 jobs reported for the state. The other three metro areas were flat for the year with Las Cruces up 500 (+0.7%), Santa Fe up 300 (0.5%) and Farmington down 300 or 0.6%. For the 26 rural counties, subtract the metros and find that they were up 8,100 jobs for the year.
The statewide mystery increase came in finance with 1,000 new jobs, 5.5% increase on a base of 18,300 jobs in June 2016. From where?
The figures were released yesterday afternoon, July 28, by the Department of Workforce Solutions. The report is in DWS’ Labor Market Review newsletter.
New Mexico’s unemployment, 6.4% in June, remained second nationally to Alaska’s 6.8%. The District of Columbia with 6.2% unemployment is the only other area above six percent.
Sector activity in Las Cruces and Santa Fe was modest, plus or minus 100 jobs here and there. The two added 800 leisure and hospitality jobs between them.
For the month between May and June 2017, the state dropped 1,100 jobs, or 0.1%, with 6,000 additional private sectors jobs more than offset by 7,100 fewer public sector jobs. The state’s job drop concentrated in education with higher ed, down 2,800 and local ed, down 5,200. Welcome to summer.
Albuquerque’s happiness was led by education and health services (Medicaid) up 2,800, followed by leisure and hospitality, up 2,300 jobs.
State government in three metros added 900 jobs over the year with no change in Farmington. The rest of the state, therefore, was down 1,400 jobs.
This month’s Labor Market Review contains an information analysis was worker migration from 2007 to 2015.
As might be expected, we lose workers to neighboring and nearby states, Texas and Colorado especially. Also Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana and North Dakota. The Northwest is a big attraction with Washington and Oregon both drawing more than 1,100 workers for the nine-year period. Workers can to the state from places such as California, Illinois, Michigan Missouri and Mississippi.
DWS split the analysis into 2007 to 2010 and 2011 to 2015. As New Mexico’s economy deteriorated in the 2011 to 2015 time, worker movement changed. People moved to Arizona and California from New Mexico. Movement to Texas increased and went way up to Colorado with about a three-fold increase.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Jobs Grow 2.3%; Some Statistical Shifting Involved

New Mexico added 19,300 (seasonally unadjusted) wage jobs, or 2.3%, between June 2016 and June 2017, an amazing performance for a state that has produced year-over-year job growth—when there was job growth—of more like 0.2% for a long time.
Though New Mexico’s unemployment rate dropped, the state’s 6.4% rate remained second nationally to Alaska’s 6.8%. Our two tenths of a point decline in the unemployment rate from May was considered statistically significant by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reports the numbers. The state’s increase in wage jobs from June 2016 was not considered statistically significant.
The Department of Workforce Solutions released the June job summary last Friday, July 21. DWS said, “The spike in growth is partly due to shifts in seasonality in government employment.” How much of the growth came from the statistical shuffling, DWS did not say. We will learn more come Friday the 28th when DWS unveils details in the Labor Market Review newsletter.
The private sector added 18,900 jobs, a performance DWS called “the largest gain in over a decade.” The size of this sudden improvement makes it statistically suspicious. Not that DWS is cooking the books, but I wonder about things under the surface.
The leisure and hospitality segment (mostly tourism) added 7,500 jobs over the year including 4,300 between May and June. The annual gain led all sectors. The 7.7% year-over-year gain appears a little too good to be true, as does the state’s job jump. Revisions always follow. The question will be how much revision.
For the year from June 2015 to June 2016, the state added 14,000 jobs including 5,300 in leisure and hospitality. The 2015-2016 gain was driven by education and health services (EHS) (Medicaid) which gained 9,800 jobs.
The EHS growth has dropped. The sector “only” added 3,200 jobs during the most recent year.
The 8.1% year-over-year gain in construction jobs led the sectors in percentage improvement. Construction added 3,500 jobs.
Additional good news comes with the addition of 2,600 jobs in the professional and business services sector and with the 200 of only 200 jobs, year-over-year in mining.
Manufacturing supplied bad news with the loss of 800 jobs.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

June Abq Homes Sales Look Good

Sometimes things get set aside. No reason. No excuse. Just happens. So here we are five days after the Greater Albuquerque Association of Realtors released the June sales report.
Compared to June 2016, the performance of single family detached homes looks good. Compared to the past few months the market may be flattening.
Homes are selling quickly from a limited inventory. During June the homes sold were on the market an average of 46 days, one less day than a year ago and 16 days less than January.
June saw the sale close on 1,194 homes, 69 units, or 6.1%, more than June 2016. The 1,194 homes sold were two less than May.
Pending sales during June saw a big jump from a year before—22.9%. The 1,283 sales pending were slightly above the 1,279 sales pending during May. Both May and June were a little below March and April
During June 93% of the sales pending during May turned into a sales that closed in June. That’s assuming the rule of thumb for a 45-day closing period still works.
In my neighborhood just north of the University of New Mexico two homes sold within a few days—maybe five days—of being put on the market. Both are the basic early 1950s 1,800 square foot, three bedroom wood frame/stucco. One buyer is a young family—two lawyers and their three-year-old—who had been renting nearby and camping on the internet watching as homes hit the market. The other buyer is a couple maybe in their 40s who buy and renovate homes, doing much of the work themselves. They, too, had sought a new project for months.
The median price was $185,000 for homes sold during January. The median price for the 5,761 homes sold during the first six months of the year was $193,500 with a $200,000 median for June.
For homes sold during the first half of 2017, the average price was $231,575 with the average for the month of June at $243,099.
The June median price was a barely there 0.4% increase from June 2016. June’s average price was up 3.9% from June 2016.