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Fix the knowledge gap

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Here’s something new: A rare Earth exploration

By Harold Morgan

Neutral is the outlook for the New Mexico economy from the Economics Group at Wells Fargo Securities.
Wells’ only “upside risk” appears to be “if alternative energy begins to take hold over the near term.”
Near term? What? A year or two? Snicker, chortle. Wells’ economists must be mainlining the green air around their San Francisco offices.
One has to wonder if the neutral declaration, issued June 24, offers some insight about New Mexico getting no mention in Wells’ much broader report, dated April 13, “Economic Dynamics and State Competitiveness.”
Maybe, being neutral, there are no dynamics to mention and no competitiveness to analyze.
Wells used shift-share analysis in the study, an approach familiar to economic developers.
State job growth is broken into the part driven by national employment trends, the portion explained by a particular industry, and growth due to local or regional factors, which define a state’s competitive advantage or disadvantage.
At least one new thing is trying to happen in New Mexico — development of “rare earth” deposits. “Rare earth elements” is a catchall phrase for 17 elements with uniquely efficient electronics properties making them especially handy in electronic devices, according to the summer issue of “New Mexico Earth Matters,” the newsletter of the Bureau of Geology.  
The main rare element about rare earth elements, which in fact are abundant in the earth, is being concentrated enough to make for profitable mining.
Two companies, Strategic Resources Inc., of Regina, Saskatchewan, and BE Resources Inc., of Elephant Butte, have done some drilling in Socorro County. BE Resources is a public company traded on the TSX Venture Exchange.
Another, Geovic Mining Corp. of Denver, planned a few shallow holes last month on claims in the Cornudas Mountains of southern Otero County, where the rough terrain requires transporting equipment by horseback, according to an Associated Press story.
Geovic’s claims seem considered part of Otero Mesa, that sacrosanct touchstone of environmental piety.
Geovic’s efforts prompted the emergence of a new group, Mescalero Apache Advocates for Otero National Monument, that proclaimed in an Albuquerque Journal op-ed piece, “Otero Mesa is one of the most sacred places, if not the holiest, to us Apache.”
Steve Homick, the writer, said the exalted status was known to “only a handful of the curious” until recently.
Interesting. Love the timing.
Geovic operates in places even weirder than New Mexico. Geovic’s main business is developing a large cobalt property in Cameroon, a central African nation tucked between Nigeria and the Central African Republic.
The point of this digression over something small is that dreamers make things happen.
Economic growth comes from doing new stuff, such as mining rare earth elements, and doing old stuff better, more productively.
Economic growth does not come from the federal government specifying the font and style for neighborhood street signs. (This has happened. I’m not kidding.)
The Wells report considered 25 industries. A positive regional advantage appeared in more than 17 industries for 20 states, none of them New Mexico.
One industry considered high growth nationally over the next few years is big here.
Professional and technical services includes lawyers, accountants, testing labs, engineers, computer systems design and ad agencies.
New Mexico has a greater regional advantage than most states. This group has been New Mexico’s biggest loser recently, a mystery to me given the technology concentration.
If only the losses were lawyers. But we don’t know and our poor data can’t tell us.
We need to nurture our dreamers. Technology dreamers get attention. What about resource-based dreamers?
Recently I discovered that the Economic Development Department appears to have little knowledge of mining. EDD is run by good people. I hope they are fixing the knowledge gap.

Harold Morgan
© New Mexico
News Services 2011