Attracting the “Best and Brightest” to New Mexico

A few weeks ago, the Albuquerque Business Journal carried a story by Winthrop Quigley with a lot of hand-wringing from policymakers over how to keep New Mexico’s “best and brightest” at home. Of course, the real issue should not be keeping highly educated New Mexico’s at home, rather the issue, if there is one, should be continuing to attract the most educated and economically-productive workers to the state. It matters not where they come from. Unfortunately, policymakers are missing the forest for the trees, so I responded with the following letter which appeared on Monday:

Take a tip from Texas

The UNM researchers and elected officials have it exactly wrong when they say, as Sen. Tim Keller did, that “we can’t expect to build a rich, diverse, growing economy when 60 percent of our work force leaves our state.” (“N.M. faces struggle to keep best and brightest at home”)

The importance of a strong educational system cannot be understated and reforms to our K-12 system and university systems are desperately needed but, contrary to Keller’s assertion, the way to improve our work force is to create a stronger economy in New Mexico. After all, bright people, whether they are from New Mexico or Ohio or Beijing will move to the places that have the most favorable economic climates and thus the most jobs available to them.

Texas is a good example of this. According to the Department of Labor, in 2008 Texas created 59 percent of all the new jobs in the country and the state’s unemployment rate remains about 2 percent lower than the national average. It is no surprise that Texas lacks a personal income tax and ranks highly in most studies relating to business friendliness.

New Mexico, while it has cut its income tax from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent in recent years, is not as business-friendly and our regulatory climate makes things difficult for entrepreneurs. Rather than spending money to bribe educated New Mexicans to stay home, legislators should abandon efforts to raise taxes to fill the budget deficit and focus on removing barriers to job creation in New Mexico. That is the way to keep the “best and brightest” at home.