A leading state economist told lawmakers Monday that New Mexico and the nation are in “a crisis like no other experience in our lifetime.”

“It’s bleak ... a debacle, if you will,” said Christopher Erickson, a professor and interim head of New Mexico State University’s College of Business.

The villain? COVID-19.

Experts from various sectors of the state’s economy painted a bleak portrait of how the viral illness has affected New Mexico during a daylong virtual hearing before the legislative Economic and Rural Development Committee.

Their testimony once again highlighted the difficulty of battling a public health enemy that is wreaking havoc in ways that go beyond how many residents have tested positive or how many have died.

Kathy Komoll, CEO of the New Mexico Hospitality Association, said it will take an estimated four to five years for those businesses to recover.

And Carri Phillis, an Albuquerque bar and restaurant owner, said the only way the state Legislature can save the dining industry is through “some sort of bailout. ... If we must remain closed, it’s time for the state to step up and pay us to be closed.”

Worse yet: Both Erickson and Janie Chermak, a professor of economics at the University of New Mexico, said no economist can predict when the crisis will come to an end.

Any financial expert claiming to know what will happen next “is not telling you the truth,” Erickson said.

The numbers are becoming all too familiar to those following COVID-19’s path: Well over 97,000 New Mexico residents are receiving unemployment benefits, with a total of nearly 261,000 new claims filed since March 15; nearly 30 companies in the state have declared bankruptcy; some 40 percent of the state’s 3,500 restaurants are temporarily closed and 3 percent are permanently closed.

Consumer spending has dropped by 12 percent from this time last year, said Alicia Keyes, the state’s Cabinet secretary of economic development.

Keyes said New Mexico is nonetheless poised to draw in new businesses and economic resources because people want to relocate to a more rural setting.

“Companies want to move from Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco to get a better quality of life,” she said. With good planning and the right incentives, the state can draw them here, Keyes added.

Federal financial initiatives, like the Paycheck Protection Program, have poured billions of aid into the state to help businesses meet regular expenses, she said. But that program is slated to end this month, and a recent Goldman Sachs report said 84 percent of businesses relying on that help predicted their funds would run out by the end of July.

As the state continues to grapple with not-always-popular measures like banning mass gatherings and requiring anyone coming to New Mexico from out of state to self-quarantine, the hospitality, tourism and restaurant industries are getting hammered, experts told lawmakers on the committee.

“The nature of the crisis is such that initially the service sector will be the most impacted — retail, entertainment, hospitality, travel, tourism,” Erickson said. “Meaning relatively low-skilled workers are losing their jobs, workers who do not have widespread job opportunities. ... They have skills that are not easily transferable.

“If we are not careful, these workers will end up not having jobs when the recession is over,” he said.

Lawmakers and others offered potential solutions Monday, though many were drawn along broad strokes.

They talked about finding new state revenue sources and ways to fund more small-business loans, and expanding broadband capacity in the state. Other suggestions centered on boosting the film industry when it reopens, altering liquor license laws to allow restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages to go and building up the alternative energy sector.

“We are highly dependent on the oil and gas industry, so diversification away to take us out of the highs and lows of that very cyclical industry is important,” Chermak said.

Keyes said lawmakers can help by speaking with their constituents.

“Talk to us,” she said. “Tell us what’s going on. Tell us what you need.”

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, chairman of the committee, said it will meet again at the end of the month and in October to help lawmakers prepare for the 2021 legislative session, which begins in mid-January.

The purpose of the hearings, he said, is to have experts from different fields “give us their view on what they see so we as lawmakers can come up with public policy solutions to deal with it.”

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(11) comments

Manny NoMask

Lol. Remember, your governor hates you. Remember, you voted this tyranny in. Get out of NM while you can.

Janet Davidoff

I agree with Ed Li.

Everything closed but my grocery store, and it is 1/3 occupied by Trumputin's Massless Bioterrorists smirking and puffed up about spreading a virus. Nevermind the grocery will not enforce their own mask policy or the NM mask order. I started ordering food online and it is shipped to me. I have a garden for fresh food and a salad 2all indoors all winter long. How can I support NM business if NM businesses refuse to support my health and well being?

The crazy brigade votes for genocide.

Ed Li

“The villain?” “COVID-19” It is much more deeper than that. The primary villain in all this mess has been a nation of anti-intellectual conservatives, anti-science “Christians” and mentally deranged conspiracists all unwilling, at some level, to cooperate with restrictions so that we can control the spread of this virus and get on with our lives. The majority of people in this country have failed basic education and are far too gone at this point for any hope of change in the long term.

Katherine Martinez

Ed Li, this is a very weak argument. Yes, this is a national pandemic as we all know, but the story regards New Mexico, locally, which has been historically controlled by liberal elitists, mostly carpetbaggers intent on solving our problems with bee pollen and crystals. Your bigoted, myopic remarks speak for themselves.

Janet Davidoff

Maskless Bioterrorists hurt New Mexico businesses more than supposed "carpetbaggers" ever could. Insanity on the prowl. Your hatred is part of the problem, since money must come from outside to bulk up our lack thereof. All underdeveloped areas need outside money, and outside money always comes with (not your) ideals. If you want it to always be about you, pony up and open a business. Invite bioterrorists to shop too. Easy peasy.

Katherine Martinez

I wear a mask by the way. You are a hateful, racist, bigot.

Janet Davidoff

Katherine, I am 37% Apache and the rest various brands of white. I still carry my ex's Jewish name. My son is 50% Mexican indian, plus Apache and white. I speak Spanish and lived in Mexico several years. Which part of my own body am I racist against, exactly? I don't have a bioterrorist portion and I am not flapping my mouth against investors by calling them carpetbaggers.

Katherine Martinez

I see we share a similar racial composition, right down to the Jewish ancestry. Unfortunately any similarities end there. I suggest you are bigoted, because you refuse to tolerate those with opposing views, and you agree with those that disparage the Christian faith, for instance. Your claim of maskless "bioterrorists" is a bit melodramatic, and sounds straight out of the antifa playbook (Oregonian version, naturally). Further, your so called "investors" come here to 'fly over' country and appropriate our culture tearing down institutions and symbols that are 100's of years old, or proposing the closure of streets, without any consideration for the indigenous (yes indigenous, which I have every right to claim as you do) population of the state, in the name of 'evolution'. My original point since you missed it was regarding the entrenched liberal politicians, especially in Northern New Mexico such as the Lujan dynasty, that have led this district for decades and yet you complain about your local grocery store and lack of investment. Then there is our city council and ever-popular mayor. I hope you are holding them equally accountable for our economic woes as you do the "crazy brigade" who you hysterically accuse of supporting genocide. You are classic copy-book liberal material.

Dan Secrist

So how much of this is clearly attributable to the still inadequate Federal pandemic response, and how much to the pre-pandemic collapse of oil prices, which was deliberately triggered by our "allies" in Saudi Arabia? When will our holiday excursionist legislature take some meaningful action towards diversifying our petro-dependent state economy? When will it be raining hard enough to utilize our "rainy day" funds?

Andrew Lucero

It doesn't take an expert to know that the economic outlook for our state is grim. I've said it before and I'll say it again. As bad as things are now, the REAL economic pain hasn't even begun yet. It will probably take us decades to fully recover.

Mike Johnson

Well duh.....yes, Michelle Lujan Grisham, destroying New Mexico one business at a time......

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