Booming Eddy and Lea counties propel state’s construction job growth

A pump jack in the area south Farmington on Tuesday. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

Construction jobs are booming in New Mexico — except in the biggest cities and much of the rural areas.

New Mexico ranked No. 6 in the nation in July and No. 8 in June in construction job growth, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

The divining rod pulls straight to southeastern Eddy and Lea counties, oil and gas country.

New Mexico’s big cities played no role in the 8.4 percent year-over-year gain in construction jobs in July. Albuquerque saw a 1 percent loss in construction jobs and ranked No. 307 out of 356 metro areas analyzed by AGC.

Santa Fe was unchanged from July 2018 to July 2019 and ranked No. 256. Las Cruces, which generally has been in the top 100 metros, dropped to No. 172 with a 3 percent increase in construction jobs. The top 20 U.S. metros saw construction job gains of 10 percent or more, according to AGC.

Eddy County, on the other hand, led New Mexico counties with 610 new construction jobs and a 24.9 percent increase in the first quarter, according to the most recent statistics available to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.

Neighboring Lea County added 498 construction jobs in the first quarter, the second highest job number among the state’s 33 counties.

Those two counties in the Permian Basin plus the San Juan Basin near Farmington have pushed New Mexico to third in the nation in oil production and ninth in natural gas production, according to the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

“We have 100 rigs running [drilling new wells] for the past three years in the Permian Basin,” said Robert McEntyre, the association’s communications director. “We have never had that before.”

That includes construction of pipelines for gas and oil, gas processing plants and offices in the oil fields. One industrial contractor in Hobbs who builds offices for the oil and gas industry is having his busiest year, said Missi Currier, CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Lea County.

“As the oil and gas industry continues to fuel southeastern New Mexico’s economy, the need for residential and commercial construction continues to rise in Lea County,” Currier said.

Hobbs issued 166 single-family home permits in 2018, twice the number it had in 2016. Through July, Hobbs already had issued 115 single-family home permits — on pace for 197 for the year — and four apartment permits, according to city of Hobbs statistics.

Eddy County had the lowest unemployment rate in the state in July at 3.8 percent and Lea County had the fifth-lowest rate at 4.8 percent. The statewide unemployment rate in July was 5.6 percent, according to state Workforce Solutions Department statistics.

The oil and gas association predicts crude oil production in New Mexico will increase 358 percent by 2030 and natural gas production will increase 106 percent, amounting to a need for $174 billion in new infrastructure to support oil and gas production.