Errors of Enchantment has noted the sorry state of the aerospace sector in New Mexico before, but another reminder arrived this week, with the release of the Aerospace Industries Association’s “2018 Facts & Figures” report.
The trade group found that “the aerospace and defense industry” made up “nearly two percent of U.S. nominal gross domestic product” in 2017, shipped $143 billion worth of exports, achieved “a positive trade balance of $86 billion,” and supported “2.4 million American jobs, paying an average wage of $91,500.”
As has been the case for many decades, California (354,000), Washington (313,100), Texas (230,400), Arizona (141,600), and Connecticut (129,700) had the most jobs in aerospace/defense. New Mexico wasn’t mentioned in “2018 Facts & Figures,” and justly so — according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, annual average employment in the Land of Enchantment’s “aerospace product and parts manufacturing” sector was a whopping 815.
No fair, critics might argue — New Mexico is a small-population state, and can’t possibly complete with California and Texas. True. That’s why location quotient (LQ) is a useful metric. It gauges each state’s performance measured against the nation as a whole, which is indexed to 1.0. With a score of 0.30, New Mexico’s performance is abysmal. Twenty-six states — including neighbors Utah, Colorado, and Oklahoma — fare better. According to Albuquerque Business First, just three New Mexico aerospace/aviation firms have more than 100 employees.
As for the “space” component of aerospace, the industry continues to avoid New Mexico. Tuesday, Rocket Lab announced plans to develop “a US launch site, with four US space ports shortlisted to launch the Electron rocket.” Unsurprisingly, “Spaceport America” was not on the list. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Jeff Bezos’s Texas-based Blue Origin plans for “test flights with passengers on the New Shepard soon,” with ticket sales to start next year.
The good news is that with the Roswell International Air Center (pictured below) as its epicenter, New Mexico’s maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) industry does have an above-average presence. The LQ for positions in “other support activities for air transport” stands at 1.41 — putting the state one slot removed from a top-ten position, nationally. Let’s hope that score grows, and MRO work helps to diversify the state’s economy.
New Mexico is not, and never has been, an “aerospace state.” But it can become one. Tax reform, a right-to-work law, school choice, and a better legal climate would surely attract the makers of aircraft, satellites, and launch vehicles. The Land of Enchantment has great weather and wide-open spaces. What it lacks is an overall policy architecture that embraces, rather than repels, investment.