Officials with the City’s Economic Development Department highlighted their economic outlook for Las Cruces using data gathered midway through 2019.
Economist Francisco Pallares said the City’s unemployment rate in May was 4.5 percent, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
That matched the statewide rate for the month but remained slightly higher than the May 2018 rate of 4.1 percent.
Pallares said a measure often used to track job creation is total nonfarm payroll employment. Preliminary data for June 2019 shows the number of payroll jobs in metropolitan Las Cruces totaled 73,800. That’s an increase of 600 jobs compared with the previous year.
While industries like education and health services made gains, Pallares said others saw losses.
“We have seen some decreases in professional and business services, but we have also seen some increases particularly in healthcare. We have also seen some increases in leisure and hospitality, in construction. So, we have seen some increases in other areas as well," Pallares said.
Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima said the job market in Las Cruces has began focusing more on high-paying technical jobs. He cited moves by video game startup Ganymede Games and spaceflight company Virgin Galactic as recent examples.
“With Virgin Galactic moving their operations from Mojave here in Las Cruces, you're starting to see a lot of ancillary businesses that are very excited about that that are starting to set up. Whether it's tours, whether it's support businesses that come with building spaceships," Miyagishima said. "It's really cool, it's really fun to see and it's very good as far as employment's concerned."
Pallares said the City has also seen increases this year in the average valuation of new non-residential commercial construction permits. Those permit values averaged $1.47 million in June, more than double the average for that month from 2006 to 2018.
“This is more associated to two specific projects related to healthcare—the expansion of a hospital as well as building of some medical offices that have happened in the months of May as well as June of this year," Pallares said.
Las Cruces, Pallares said, partners with the Council for Community and Economic Research to collect cost-of-living data for housing, groceries, utilities, transportation and more. Based on first quarter findings, the report states Las Cruces is on average 11 percent more affordable than the average U.S. city.
“In most instances, it is more affordable in the instance of housing, in the instance of utilities as well as in the case of miscellaneous goods. But it does have that we are a little bit more expensive in terms of groceries," Pallares said.
Citing the recent arrival of industrial hemp company Rich Global Hemp Corp., Miyagishima said going forward he’s interested in growing hemp manufacturing by developing the West Mesa Industrial Park located south of Las Cruces International Airport.
“You know, one of the things that we’ve tried for years is to develop it into a manufacturing place for, you know, to maybe partner with or augment the maquila industry. But, I think Santa Teresa has the inside track on that because of its location, proximity to the rail. So, I think one of the things that we may want to look at is developing the West Mesa Industrial Park into more of a manufacturing area for hemp product," Miyagishima said.
There’s already plenty of people to fill jobs in manufacturing and other industries. Las Cruces had more than 2,100 people unemployed in May 2019, per Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Pallares said that’s due to factors that include a lack of information and training. Citing August labor market data, he said there are more than 1,000 active job openings in Las Cruces.
“And the types of job openings that we have had in Las Cruces are mostly focused or there’s a lot that are focused in healthcare," Pallares said. "There’s a lot of RN positions, there’s a lot of medical assistant positions, a lot of positions associated to healthcare in general. There’s also some associated to retail. But in terms of healthcare you would have to… train a worker, train a group of individuals in order to fulfill those jobs for which they’re applying.”
Pallares said the City will meet in November to review another economic variable, the cost-of-living adjustment to the minimum wage set for 2020.