Chile is more than agriculture

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By Harold Morgan


The standard economic numbers provide little help understanding the reality of the New Mexico economy. 

We have manufacturing, but manufacturing of what? Gross domestic product figures give some insight. The GDP reports the money, the value added in each industry. Manufacturing generates 7 percent of the money produced here with, the DWS job figures say, 4 percent of the wage jobs. The secret is that computer and electronic manufacturing is responsible for 69 percent of the value of manufacturing products. Much of that comes from the Intel plant in Rio Rancho.

Then there is printing, a “manufacturing industry” but mostly serving the same primary sector support function as do dry cleaners.

Let’s try some logic. 

What counts is the linkage, the thing bringing economic activity together. For me, most work done in our state lies within two very general and overlapping frameworks—science and everything coming from the land and the people, the cultures.

For economic diversity, start with chile. The plant is central to our culture and our cuisine, itself a subset of culture, even inspiring the silly State Question. We grow chile, which puts it in the crop sector of agriculture. The chile production ritual comes in the fall, both at the industrial scale where processors are manufacturing companies such as Bueno, and families buying direct from farmers or growers markets. 

New Mexico State University is the (world-wide, I think) locus of all things chile, which means government and science, the latter referring to Aggie research. 

NMSU’s Chile Pepper Institute (chilepepperinstitute.org) provides an umbrella for the research and for information exchange, hosting conferences (the leisure and hospitality sector) and being the hub of the network for consumers with cookbooks and souvenirs (retail within government). The Institute and Seoul National University (the one in Korea) just announced successfully mapping the chile genome. 

Another chile network gathers every March in Albuquerque at the National Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show (www.fieryfoodsshow.com). On the website, producer Dave DeWitt calls it “the largest and most visited show about spicy foods and barbecue in the world.”

Chile touches five sectors where numbers exist (retail, government, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality, and agriculture) and two without numbers (science and culture). Sounds fairly economically diverse to me.

Now to science paid for by the government. On the small side in employee terms, the Albuquerque Seismological Laboratory, a unit of the U.S. Geological Survey, supports the operation and maintenance of seismic networks around the world, says its website (http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/asl). For diversity, the USGS has other New Mexico offices with other functions.

Big science, as defined by topic(s) and employment, is found at the two national laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia, White Sands Missile Range and various military research organizations including the Space Development Test Directory on Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. Note that “space” is a topic linking all sorts of scientific work in New Mexico.

While Los Alamos and Sandia have entered many fields, one rough way to characterize the relationship within the primary nuclear defense mission is that LANL does the science while Sandia does the engineering, making things. But LANL has many engineers while scientists such as physicists, chemists and others populate Sandia. 

Space diversity at Los Alamos includes creating three devices critical to the Curiosity explorer currently poking around and at Mars. Perhaps 100 LANL staff worked on Curiosity.

Astronomy offers more science diversity with money coming from government and private sector activity associated including tourism and real estate development. Facilities mostly lie along the mountains from north to south but are out of town and therefore out of the general mind.

To talk about the labs as one entity or chile as only agriculture misleads, feeds ignorance and produces bad policy.