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More High Tech in NM Urged to Avert Another Boom and Bust

New Mexico is now in third place among U.S. states in oil production. (hcn.org)
New Mexico is now in third place among U.S. states in oil production. (hcn.org)
March 26, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico might be one of the most beautiful states in the country, but high unemployment and lack of quality education are keeping people from moving to the Land of Enchantment.

A recent U.S. News and World Report ranked it 48th among the 50 states for places you'd want to live. Criteria used included health care, education and quality of life.

New Mexico ranked eighth in quality of life, but dead last in education. While the state's economy is now rebounding because of an uptick in the oil and gas industry, Mark Muro, senior fellow with the Brookings Institute, says rural states such as New Mexico need to embrace high tech faster if they want to compete with more urban areas.

"Places that are flourishing are often very capable in tech and are attracting the kind of millennial workers that are very well-educated and bring technical skills," he says.

New Mexico is one of three states still struggling with unemployment above 5 percent, alongside Alaska and West Virginia, but recently has climbed to third place among U.S. states in oil production.

Muro says since the 2008 recession, there's been a sharp contrast between large and small communities' economic fortunes and notes that long-term trends favor big cities.

"I think it's right to think there may be a moment where some of this evens out and more tech invests in New Mexico, but we haven't seen that moment yet," says Muro.

In the past year, jobs in manufacturing and energy are showing improvement, but Muro says those industries have typically proven to be cyclical and contribute to the state's boom-and-bust economy.

He adds that in a digital era, automation and globalization favor the biggest, densest cities over rural areas.

"Really, all jobs are now to some extent digital jobs” he says. “Every job is involved with computers. People in rural places or small communities have to get much more adept and aggressive at adopting technology."

Muro notes that the rural-urban divide began as early as 1920, when the number of Americans who lived in cities, overtook those who live in the countryside.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM