Small business, branch offices, tumbleweeds

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By Harold Morgan

Recent national news about New Mexico starts with the radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad. Then tumbleweeds bury a home in Clovis.
The non-status of our economy generates doublespeak and dredging in the memory. A senior administration official observed recently that there is “no growth in the labor market.”
In fact, jobs are disappearing.
Memory dredging began with wondering what was the last truly massively transformative economic event. The best answer seems the appearance during and just after World War II of what became the national laboratories (Los Alamos and Sandia) and White Sands Missile Range. The labs remain here, whining about government dependence notwithstanding.
Skiing positively affected many communities starting around 1950, but in a low-key manner.
Another answer might be the uranium boom in the Grants Uranium Belt starting with Paddy Martinez’s discovery in 1950. That long since went away and Grants went back to sleep. Or the Intel plant, just in Albuquerque.
Today a real transformation builds around energy in Lea and Eddy Counties. We have a beginning transformation in Santa Teresa in southern Doña Ana County.
The word “transformation” reflects the human desire for instant gratification. Behind our complaining about economic status lurks a desire that things change instantly. Ain’t going to happen.
Public company history offers additional perspective. Venture capitalists preach that issuing company shares to the public measures success.
Return to the thrilling days of yesteryear. There were public companies of size, some even listed on big-time exchanges such as the New York Stock Exchange. PNM Resources is the only one left.
Start with NASDAQ-listed Sunwest Financial Services, operator of the Sunwest Banks. I worked there. Sunwest joined Bank of America, which recently sold nearly all its rural community operations. Of the teller stations at B of A’s downtown Albuquerque office, several are completely vacant, five have computers, and, during recent trips there, seldom have I seen as many as three tellers at once. Nothing much has happened in downtown Albuquerque since construction of the Albuquerque Plaza-Hyatt Regency project in 1990.
Los Alamos National Bank, with five percent of the market, is our biggest “local” bank. Merideth Corporation of Des Moines, Iowa, which just dropped monthly publication of the Ladies Home Journal, failed in Albuquerque. Omaha, Neb., is another AAA baseball city with real NYSE companies, such as Mutual of Omaha, Berkshire Hathaway, Union Pacific and others.
Back here, Santa Fe Pacific Gold spun out of the Santa Fe Railway, made the NYSE, merged with Newmont Mining and disappeared. Sun Healthcare flew high, built buildings in Albuquerque along I-25, imploded and faded away.
Nuclear Pharmacy, very early in the radiopharmaceuticals business, went public, built a headquarters and did a “merger of equals” with another company. All good, except the other guys had 51 percent. See ya. Thornburg Mortgage failed in the financial crisis though Thornburg Investment Management remains.
Vern Rayburn illustrates our complex situation. He joined drone maker Titan Aerospace of Moriarty last year and recently sold the company to Google. Rayburn’s previous publicized aerospace business was the much-hyped Eclipse Aviation in Albuquerque, described by Bloomberg Businessweek as “one of the largest financial disasters in aviation history.” {With new owners, and a new name, Eclipse Aerospace is making airplanes.} The Titan deal is very cool, but the people numbers are tiny. The future? Who knows?
Consider also the recent sale of Taos Ski Valley by the Blake family to Louis Bacon, a founder of Moore Capital Management, a large New York hedge fund. The reason, I’m told, was simply that the family lacked the money keep the skiing competitive and pursue the real estate opportunities.
Small businesses and branch offices are today’s reality.