PBS NewsHour Says New Mexico Is “Down In The Dumps” And The Brain Drain Is To Blame

Thema Blog, Education, Talent and Skill Development

PBS NewsHour Says New Mexico Is “Down In The Dumps” And The Brain Drain Is To Blame

By Robert DelCampo, Ph.D. Executive Director, innovationAcademy, University of New Mexico | March 6, 2018

While the brain drain often tops the list of blame for New Mexico’s economic challenges, how much does it really affect our economy? And what can we do to turn the trend around?

Economics correspondent for PBS NewsHour Paul Solman reported in January on New Mexico’s economy. A decade after the Great Recession, New Mexico is still in recovery while much of the U.S. economy is on the rebound. In its fairly dismal intro, the report says New Mexico is, “a place that’s still down in the dumps a decade after the recession began.” Ouch.

A big part of the problem, PBS NewsHour reports, is a statewide brain drain: a trend of New Mexico’s young people leaving to more promising and populous markets. And while the brain drain often tops the list of blame for New Mexico’s economic challenges, how much does it really affect our economy? And what can we do to turn the trend around?

Between 2000 and 2010, New Mexico had one of the nation’s highest population growth rates, but since then we’ve plummeted, particularly among the all-important millennial generation (those born between approximately 1981-1994). When looking at all surrounding states they all have increases in net millennial population (Texas—increase of 8%, Colorado—increase of 13.8%, Arizona—increase of 4.7% and Utah—increase of 4.4%), while New Mexico has a net negative rate of -2.8%, one of the gravest in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018).

Why are millennials key to economic growth?

It is hypothesized that in the next five to 10 years, upward of 50 percent of the population will retire, leaving the bulk of the tax base and high-level jobs to Generation X (1965-1980 births) and millennials. However, Gen X is quite small while the millennial population reaches into the 40-50 million range. Millennials also represent the key demographic that advertisers seek to reach (the coveted 18-34 year-old demographic group) where young families solidify their residence and purchasing patterns (DelCampo, Haggery, Haney & Knippel, 2011).

Personally, in my time as a professor at UNM, I’ve seen this generation seek the opportunity and diversity of jobs in the perceived “greener pastures” of Austin, Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City. While some might assume the larger size of the markets and diversity of entertainment and leisure options might attract youthful optimism, it is more often than not the differing employment options. This key group is attracted to the promise of prosperity offered by successful startup businesses and the hope for future success in early-stage startups. Young adults beginning their professional lives often seek shorter term opportunity at established medium-sized firms and once they have proven their individual value or worth, seek more entrepreneurial opportunities.

How to turn the trend around?

PBS reported that New Mexico officials are, “betting on innovation to spark the turnaround.” It is not only local officials who recognize innovation and entrepreneurship as tools to grow New Mexico’s economy. Education institutions and leaders in the private, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors are also on board. Through City Alive all these players are aligning efforts to create 10,000 net new jobs through supporting innovation and entrepreneurship.

The UNM innovationAcademy is set to “prime the pump” for these new businesses and new jobs. We create an interdisciplinary smorgasbord of entrepreneurially minded students, not just seeking to launch their own company or product, but ready to create innovative new solutions to problems right here in New Mexico. We aim to excite students about a ripe innovation ecosystem and successfully build upon their interest and skill sets right here in New Mexico. And our experiment is working! In our first 30 months of operation, we’ve exceeded our enrollment goals by over 2900 percent with over 50 percent of our students identifying as minority and over 65 percent as first generation college students. We’ve certainly struck a chord with the emerging power brokers of our state.

Albuquerque has the unique opportunity to be this place that millennials crave—a bouillabaisse of successful ventures hiring young talent, and a fertile, accessible landscape to sow new entrepreneurial oats. Moving beyond our current economic reality of federal subsidies, government employment and overreliance on extractive industries, we must embrace our current economic development trajectory. We need to shift toward developing a dynamic ecosystem of job opportunity, mashed up with new ventures for all levels of risk-takers and entrepreneurially-minded youth who are so essential to our future. Innovators come from every age, background and industry, but young people are deeply promising and will shape our economic future to come.

DelCampo, R. G., Haggerty, L. A., Haney, M. J., & Knippel, L. A. (2011). Managing the multi-generational workforce: From the GI generation to the millennials. Gower Publishing, Ltd..


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