Booming Lea, Eddy counties lead economy

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By Harold Morgan

For 2012, Lea and Eddy counties brought the gain to the New Mexico economy. Albuquerque, Las Cruces and state government were the drain.
Before taking a closer look at the state’s 2012 economic performance, a reminder of the disappearance of a previously important element in our economic performance is appropriate.
Economy watchers, me included, formerly comforted themselves with the notion that while we lagged the nation during times of growth, we also performed better during national recessions.
The quilt of mediocre steadiness is gone. Even if we could depend on national economic growth to drag us along, the slow growth of the national economy is little help to us.
A comment about Albuquerque nicely applies statewide. “Albuquerque, meanwhile, is proving almost as resistant to recovery as it was against recession; it remained the only Mountain metro in the weakest national group,” said Mark Muro and Kenan Fikri, writing last month in the Brookings Mountain West Mountain Monitor.
The following year-over-year numbers all apply to the time between November 2011 and November 2012. The Department of Workforce Solutions released the report the afternoon of Dec. 31. Except for numbers from Lea and Eddy counties, the numbers are for wage jobs.
New Mexico lost 4,800 jobs for the year. All the losses came from government. That means nothing happened in terms of net job production in the private sector, where there are 611,200 jobs. State government lost 4,300 jobs, the feds 1,200, and local government added 700. (These numbers come from the Department of Workforce Solutions, not the state personnel office.)
None of the state government job losses were in Albuquerque or Santa Fe, where the combined job total remained 35,700, or two-thirds of sector employment.
A year ago state government showed 60,800 jobs, about half in education, with 25,100 outside the north central Rio Grande Corridor. Now the outside-Albuquerque-Santa Fe total is 20,800, a 17 percent drop.
Education jobs grew slightly, meaning that all the losses came in non-education jobs.
The not unreasonable argument from legislative heavies such as Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, Santa Fe Democrat, is that state employees are dealing with expanded responsibilities and no base salary increase since 2008.
Three of the four metro areas lost 7,600 jobs together, led by Albuquerque, down 3,900. Though Albuquerque did maintain state government jobs, the feds and local government combined to lose 1,000 jobs.
More significantly, 2,900 private sector jobs left the four-county Albuquerque metro.
For the Las Cruces metro (Doña Ana County), 2012 was economically awful. Total jobs dropped 2,500, or 3.5 percent, with 1,800 private sector jobs gone.
Throw in Farmington’s loss of 800 private sector jobs and the three metro areas lost 5,500 private jobs.
That means the private sector in the 26 rural counties and Santa Fe gained 5,500 private sector jobs. Santa Fe did its part with 800 more private jobs, including 500 in leisure and hospitality.
The real private sector heroes are in Lea and Eddy counties where, together, employment grew by 3,910. (A different number from wage jobs, “employment” includes government.
It is the only recent county-level number and close enough for our purposes here.)
Employment in Lea-Eddy grew 3,190 during the year. That’s a 6.9 percent expansion. Call it a boom.
Together the two counties employ 60,770, ahead of metro Farmington. Lea County alone has the largest rural county employment with 30,720 in November. Eddy County was just behind at 30,050.
Out of sight, out of mind. Lea and Eddy folks know it well. Their boom partly offsets the trouble everywhere else.
The revenue they produce for the state allows Rep. Varela to talk about raises for state employees.