Economic development director sees progress in local economies

By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer

Although Roosevelt County felt national economic problems, the local economy also saw progress in the past year, said the Roosevelt County Community Development Corporation director.

Director Greg Fisher told commissioners Tuesday that Portales, Clovis, Lubbock and Amarillo have some of the strongest economic indicators in the nation and show no signs of decline.

Also, local wage and job growth, as well as unemployment rates, are among the best in the nation, he said.

Nonetheless, Fisher said the national credit crunch and low milk prices have caused problems locally.

On the positive side, University of New Mexico statistics show that Roosevelt County attracted 348 net new jobs in 2008, a 4.9 percent increase from 2007.

Wages grew by 6.8 percent, according to the UNM data.

Fisher said across the board, the growth was twice the inflation rate in the county.

“We only had about 300 unemployed people, officially, in this town,” he also said.

Although Roosevelt County’s unemployment rate rose to 3.2 percent in March 2009, it remained lower than the state’s 5.6 percent rate and the nation’s 8.3 percent unemployment, according to Fisher’s data.

Fisher said the biggest job growth over the past year was in primary manufacturing and professional services related to dairy and peanut butter industries.

The county also saw some retail growth, particularly in loans, which was to be expected in this economic climate, Fisher said.

Renewable energy land leases also increased sharply in anticipation of future wind farming, according to Fisher’s information.

Even though gross receipts were down 7 percent overall in the county, local restaurant and lodging gross receipts taxes held steady, according to his data. Fisher said this indicates people still find eating out affordable and are visiting the area.

“One of our lessons this year is the credit crunch is really hurting us,” Fisher said on the down side of the report.

National commercial lending decreases hit the housing market as some local builders couldn’t get the loans they needed to build. However, that situation is beginning to correct itself, he said.

Still, many new residents can’t afford to buy new homes because of declines in home prices in Nevada and Florida, according to Fisher’s data.

“We do have a big warning sign with dairy prices,” he also said.

If milk prices continue to be low, Fisher said, the local economy will suffer. It has already felt the impact from the price drop.

As for the population, it has been growing by about 200 people, or roughly 1 percent a year since 2007, according to UNM statistics.

Eastern New Mexico University enrollment is also increasing by more than 1 percent per year, according to the data.

Roosevelt County has a population with 51 percent of residents younger than 30 in 2008. The young population indicates a solid base for a future workforce, according to Fisher’s information.