Finding some perspective

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State’s intellectual resources place in lower tiers

By Harold Morgan

Perspective is a tough commodity to find when considering New Mexico’s economic performance in comparison to other states. The coming study of New Mexico as a place for investment will give us a good idea of our fit for a narrowly defined case.
Yet the broadest possible perspective is the necessary basis for thoughtful policy decisions. Fortunately, the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. does excellent work comparing Colorado to other states and the nation. We can be a free rider, as they say in economics.
Our riding starts with “Resource Rich Colorado,” issued in December to describe “Colorado’s National and Global Position in the Energy Economy.” Find the report at www.metrodenver.org/news-center/publications.html.
Rig counts provide a specific starting point for considering New Mexico’s life in natural resources. While oil and gas is a world-wide commodity business, drilling also responds to local matters such as regulations and regulator attitude. For the four years of Bill Richardson’s second term as governor, from 2007 to 2010, New Mexico’s count started at 71, went to 79, dropped to 48 and closed the period at 71. Baker Hughes is the source.
In 2010, New Mexico’s rig count placed seventh nationally. New discoveries pushed North Dakota and Pennsylvania from being hardly relevant to third and fifth respectively.
It isn’t accurate, strictly, to say an economy “performs” anything. An economy is the sum of the decisions and performance of the people within the city, state or nation. Training explains much, which gets us to “intellectual resources.”
I doubt that Colorado’s high school graduates are any smarter than New Mexico’s. But in 2007, New Mexico’s high school graduates ranked 37th nationally in the percentage of those cracking the top fifth in the ACT and SAT college entrance tests. Colorado was first.
Those Colorado kids seem to get their college degrees. Colorado is second in the percentage of the over-25 population with a bachelor’s degree or more, behind only Massachusetts, that university nirvana. New Mexico’s degree group ranks 35th.
Where New Mexico scores highly, behind only Massachusetts, is in the percentage of the population with a science or engineering doctorate degree. National laboratories and other research facilities, national defense-focused and paid for by government, are the explanation. The further explanation is that these well educated technical types come from universities in other states. Think California (Cal Tech, Stanford) and Massachusetts (MIT). New Mexico ranks only tenth in science and technology graduate students.
The imports, plus locally produced tech types, bring New Mexico to fifth place in high tech employment per 1,000 workers.
Money is spent at New Mexico universities on research and development, enough for a tenth place national ranking on spending per capita. It does seem worth noting that some of the states ahead of us are places not exactly thought of as research heaven—North Dakota (3rd), Hawaii (7th) and Nebraska (9th).
Patents are one standard research product. New Mexico’s research ranking translates, if that’s the right word, to a patent ranking in the mid-thirties.
Even with all those researchers, New Mexico only manages 18th place (a two place drop) on the 2010 Milken Institute Science and Technology Index. The index, Milken says, “measures the technology and science assets at the state level.”
Milken gathers 79 separate indicators into five general measures and ranks the states. In research and development inputs, New Mexico is 10th; risk capital and entrepreneurial infrastructure, 23rd; human capital investment, 25th; technology and science workforce, 25th; technology concentration and dynamism, 17th.
In oil, we may be OK. I don’t know enough to say. In our intellectual resources, we are second and third tier.

 Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress