Can New Mexico Join the ‘New American Heartland’?

Joel Kotkin and Michael Lind, authors of “The New American Heartland,” believe that “the productive economy that is anchored in the middle of the country” has the potential to foster “the kind of growth that benefits and expands the middle class.”

Their new report, published by the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism, should be required reading for New Mexico policymakers. While the Land of Enchantment isn’t on the map of the New American Heartland depicted above, we’re adjacent — and there’s no reason why the state cannot be a part of the opportunity and prosperity Kotkin and Lind foresee.

Contrary to public-payroll, chase-the-latest-trend specialists in “economic development,” the scholars note that many desirable jobs fall outside “the knowledge economy.” Goods-producing industries pay “higher wages than personal services, health care, education and hospitality,” and for those without college degrees, “blue-collar work in fields such as installation and repair, construction and extraction, manufacturing production, and transportation” offers sustainable livelihoods. Even the highly touted “brain centers” found in deep-blue zones are beginning to experience a hollowing-out, with “more households with incomes over $100,000 annually … leaving states with strong information technology and financial industries than … arriving. These places include California, New York and its New Jersey and Connecticut suburbs, Massachusetts, and the Washington, DC area (District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia).”

“In the race to feed the larger, more affluent, urban populations of the future, the US has a head start,” and New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers will have opportunities to expand their production of beef, dairy products, nuts, and feed crops. (Meat consumption, worldwide, is “expected to grow from about 85 to 109 pounds per capita in 2050, and 122 pounds in 2080.”)

As for energy, the sky’s the limit. Even accounting for the downturn that began more than two years ago, fracking “has created … hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs, not just for geologists and engineers, but also for blue-collar workers. Overall, energy jobs pay as well, and often better than, those in the heralded occupations, such as finance, business services and information.” As the U.S. intensifies its exports of petroleum and natural gas to Europe, South America, and Asia, New Mexico is poised to significantly boost its production of hydrocarbons.

Manufacturing poses the biggest obstacle for New Mexico to become a member-in-good-standing of the New American Heartland. The “Northeast and California continue to deindustrialize,” while the “fastest growing industrial regions are led by Grand Rapids, Louisville, Nashville, Detroit, Austin, Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Minneapolis, all firmly located in the Heartland belt.” The trend in the Land of Enchantment has been terrible, as the data below depressingly depict. But that can be changed, with the kinds of policies that the Rio Grande Foundation has been advocating for years: tax reform/relief, adoption of a right-to-work law, removal of the mandates that make electricity more expensive, and school-choice options that tech the kinds of skills manufacturers need.

New Mexico’s in dire straits. But “The New American Heartland” supplies a reminder of a core state strength: the cost of living. Housing, in particular, provides a competitive advantage in the battle to attract entrepreneurs, investment, and workers.

Kotkin and Lind consider the New American Heartland the “logical epicenter” of a “flourishing and dynamic tradable sector” tapping “enormous markets at home and abroad,” and generating “economic opportunities for a broad swath of working and middle class Americans.” Will New Mexico join in, or remain an outsider, mired in government-dominated employment and a metastasizing welfare state?