The Albuquerque Journal recently published, “Census wakeup call: State’s low growth shows need for hard conversations and big policy improvements.” This column shows where New Mexico’s rankings lag behind those of neighboring states. The issue is how to address this problem. New Mexico must have a vision for its economic future and a strategy to implement that vision, but where are we now? Let’s look at the data comparing Bernalillo County to high-tech, Utah County, Utah, home of Provo.
Between 1998 and 2014 Utah County had a $15,000 higher median household income than Bernalillo County. By 2015, Utah County’s median household income was $19,000 higher than Bernalillo County’s. By 2019, that difference had grown to $23,000. For most states their largest city leads that state’s economic development.
Cities with high-tech, private sector economies, e.g., Austin, Denver, Salt Lake City, Chandler, Provo, etc., have $25,000 higher median household incomes than cities like Albuquerque with economies supported by other means. Generally high-tech cities have median household incomes of $80K or higher; major cities in the interior of the U.S. without a private sector, high-tech economy have median household incomes of $55K to $60K; and rural areas and small cities have median household incomes $40K and lower.
In 2017, according to a Brookings study, Albuquerque had a per capita investment of $259 in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) university research and development (R&D) in comparison to only $60 for Provo. Over $3,000 per person is spent on R&D in New Mexico – fifth in the nation – while Utah spends $1,200. New Mexico is unlikely to prosper from more R&D investment unless it learns how to get more economic bang from its R&D bucks.
Many believe that high-tech jobs like those created in Utah are only accessible to master of science and Ph.D. graduates in STEM. However, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has determined that even though STEM employment supports 69% of U.S. GDP, 60% of STEM professionals hold less than a bachelor’s degree.
The Congressional bill, The Endless Frontiers Act, lists key technology areas the United States must address to be economically and militarily competitive with China: artificial intelligence and machine learning; high performance computing, semiconductors and advanced computer hardware; quantum computing and information systems; robotics, automation and advanced manufacturing; natural or anthropogenic disaster prevention; advanced communications technology; biotechnology, genomics and synthetic biology; cybersecurity, data storage and data management technologies; advanced energy; and materials science, engineering and exploration relevant to other key technologies.
These are the technologies New Mexico’s defense laboratories will be emphasizing going forward. At 25% of state GDP, these defense laboratories are our most important economic asset; during their boom, oil and natural gas were 10%.
New Mexico has contracted SRI to lead our state’s strategic planning effort. The state is targeting the “industries” of outdoor recreation, value-added agriculture, global trade, advanced manufacturing, bioscience, film and television, cybersecurity, aerospace and renewable energy. Four of these are listed in The Endless Frontiers Act. It is imperative our state do strategic planning well and not focus on building industries with low median household incomes. As the data show, we’ve been there and done that.
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