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New Mexico: Technology and Alternative Energy to Drive Future Growth

Mary Lou Byrd (Aug/Sep 09)
New Mexico is looking beyond the current economic situation and is proactively planning for future growth in alternative energy and technology. The state's Technology 21 is an 18-month collaborative plan that details ways in which the state can create high-wage tech jobs and business growth, according to the New Mexico Office of Science and Technology. The plan outlines five industries to target: aerospace, bioscience, energy/environment/water, information technology and nanotechnology. The plan makes several recommendations, one of which is the establishment of the New Mexico Technology Innovation Center to act as a liaison between state government, community technology programs, federal labs, universities and private companies.  The center would also be in charge of administering funding to support emerging technology.  

The state has already seen job growth in the high-tech industry, and with that has come higher wages for its workers. According to TechAmerica's Cyberstates 2009, a report that analyzes the U.S. high-tech industry, New Mexico added 2,200 high-tech jobs between 2006 and 2007, employing 51,700 high-tech workers in 2007. These workers earned an average of $71,100, or 102 percent more than New Mexico's average private sector wage.  

Spaceport America, New Mexico's long-awaited aerospace industry project, broke ground in mid-June. The 110,000-square-foot commercial spaceport is expected to have a major impact on the state's economy. In the short term, 400 construction jobs will be created as a result of the project, according to the New Mexico Economic Development Department. "New Mexicans have stepped up to the plate by making this investment," said Governor Bill Richardson at the groundbreaking. "This groundbreaking ceremony is an important step toward our goal of being at the forefront of a vibrant, new commercial space industry."

The state has also seen developments on the energy front. SCHOTT Solar inaugurated its new 200,000-square-foot solar manufacturing facility in Mesa Del Sol earlier this year, creating 350 green jobs. The facility represents an initial investment of over $100 million by the company in the region. It is expected to employ as many as 700 by its fourth year of operation. Another company, Carbon Diversion, broke ground on a $15 million site at Carlsbad's Airport Industrial Park. The company takes items such as tires or "green" waste and converts it into biofuel, electricity, or pure carbon. It plans to employ 65 initially and up to 300 eventually.

New Mexico also will see its first solar thermal power plant built in Santa Teresa. Three companies involved in the project - El Paso Electric, NRG Technologies, and eSolar - plan to begin building a 92-megawatt plant early next year, according to the governor's office. NRG officials cited the state's location, pro-business policies, and renewable energy incentives as reasons for its decision to build a plant here. The project will create 220 green construction jobs and 20 permanent jobs.

The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions reports that although job growth is at a 55-year low, unemployment is only at a 12-year high, with the state's job growth in April of this year ranked 18th in the United States. Stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are also expected to make a difference here, as Governor Bill Richardson's office says it expects to see a surge in construction employment with as many as 3,500 to 4,000 jobs created.
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