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On the state’s 75th anniversary of statehood, historian Richard Melzer asked how New Mexico’s economy – in 1987 and the previous 75 years – could be described in the same terms: alternately sunny and gloomy.
We’re still asking that question this year on the statehood centennial.
Melzer observed that the state’s successes resulted from a happy combination of resources and demand.
Coal was discovered near Gallup and Raton just as railroads and smelters needed a source in the Southwest.
World War II and the Cold War gave us the labs, which, in turn, launched or helped attract high-tech industry.
After World War II, when the nation needed oil and natural gas, New Mexico had both in abundance.
Peaceful uses of uranium triggered the first uranium boom in Grants. We had smaller booms in potash, copper, and molybdenum.
Wartime and post-war road building eased transportation and tourists sought us out.
Before that, we saw waves of “lungers” hoping our dry air and sunshine would rid them of tuberculosis, and many came with skills and money to invest.
That’s the sunny side. Melzer described “four tragic characteristics of the bonanzas themselves.”
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