Economic Development, Part 1

In last week’s column I listed some negatives that make the state of New Mexico an unattractive place to do business.  When local groups get together and try to come up with ways to get the Grant County economy revved up, they have to think within that framework.  It’s not like they are arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but damn close.

This doesn’t mean we should do nothing.  There are things we can do to help our local economy in spite of  being in New Mexico, but first we have to take a hard look at the realities of Grant County/Silver City. The Chairman of the Grant County Commissioners, Brett Kasten, has done that, and he doesn’t like what he sees.

The last two or three times I’ve heard Brett speak, he has mentioned that the school population in Grant County has dropped 50% in the last 30 years, while the overall population has remained around 30,000.  Brett is distressed by this, and he thinks we need to do something to become more family friendly, especially look for ways to attract jobs and improve our “quality of life.”

I look at the numbers differently.  Thirty years ago, Silver City was a high desert mining community, now it is a high desert retirement community. The families being attracted are those with no children in the nest.  Income statistics support this conclusion: In 1996, over half the income in Grant County was from paychecks; in 2010, over half was from retirement checks.

What this means is that the Gila Regional Medical Center (GRMC) is a more important asset for the future of Grant County than the mines run by Freeport-McMoRan.  The copper mining era, short of discovering a rich new vein, is over as an engine of growth. Attempts to integrate the mining of copper with fabrication of copper products, as some have urged, are not going to be successful in New Mexico. (See last week’s list of New Mexico negatives.)  It is what it is, folks, and no amount of wishful thinking will change it.

If Silver City has become a retirement community,  maybe we should concentrate on making it a BETTER retirement community, not necessarily a place to start just any business, but a business that caters to retired citizens, e.g. lawn and yard services, home maintenance, home medical care, pet sitting, and so on.  Some of the locals in these businesses could use a little competition!

What are the things that attracted my wife and me to retire here? In order of importance:

Climate
Low Taxes
Fabulous hiking
Small community with a WalMart.
WNMU

The GRMC was a very pleasant surprise.  If I were to make a list today, the GRMC would place third.  Nowhere on the list is “a vibrant downtown,”  “a cinema multiplex,” “paved golf cart paths,” or “college swimming teams and college baseball teams.”  In fact, efforts to supply all these things threaten to turn number two above, low taxes, into a negative: high taxes.

While our three county commissioners are promoting a tax to raise $10 million, over half of which will they will then turn over to WNMU, over which Grant County taxpayers have no control, the GRMC is undergoing a financial and management crisis.   The GRMC is a county responsibility,  a WNMU swimming pool is not.

Grant County Commissioners: Where are your priorities, gentlemen?

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