The future of New Mexico became a shade brighter with the announcement Monday that Intel plans to invest some $3.5 billion in its fabrication facility in Rio Rancho, hiring an additional 700 workers as it creates a domestic hub for advanced semiconductor manufacturing.
For a state buffeted by a number of terrible economic markers — an ongoing drought that depresses the agriculture industry; a volatile energy market; lingering economic pain because of pandemic shutdowns — news that Intel still believes in New Mexico could not come at a better time.
The $3.5 billion represents one of the largest single capital investments in New Mexico history and is fueled by market demands for improved microprocessing performance.
Recent state decisions also have helped, including the expansion of the Local Economic Development Act during the most recent legislative special session.
The LEDA legislation will allow for a portion of construction-related gross receipts taxes to be rebated back to companies for large projects that create jobs. The bipartisan bill passed the Senate 28-10 and the House 59-8. Sponsors came from both parties. See what happens when Republicans and Democrats work together?
Signed April 7, the new law will provide significant savings to Intel. According to the state Economic Development Department, gross receipts tax savings will total $14 million from state and local sharing, and another $5 million will be distributed from the regular LEDA fund to be paid after the company meets specific economic development goals.
Both Sandoval County and Rio Rancho are pitching in as well, with the county pledging $500,000 and the city $250,000.
That Intel, with its 41-year history in New Mexico, has a renewed interest in New Mexico is a great thing for the state, particularly after a difficult decade that saw the Rio Rancho plant downsized while the company expanded its operations elsewhere, most notably in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Ariz.
Rio Rancho — now the third-largest city in New Mexico after Albuquerque and Las Cruces — grew with Intel through the 1980s, ’90s and early 2000s. When the company bypassed New Mexico for expansion opportunities in places like Chandler, the Albuquerque suburb’s explosive growth cooled.
That may change now.
Intel is expected to hire 1,000 construction workers, starting this year, while spending $550 million on construction and new infrastructure. This project means construction jobs and, later, well-paying jobs at the Rio Rancho facility — the average total compensation for an Intel New Mexico employee, at the end of 2020, was some $145,000 a year. That included salary, benefits and bonuses at a rate well over what most New Mexicans make. The median state income for an individual is $25,881, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
With the recent census report about New Mexico’s lost decade — 2010 to 2020, and a population that grew only 2.8 percent — news that Intel is choosing to expand here shows better days are around the corner.
Before the pandemic upended the world, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had made a focus of her administration improving the economic climate in New Mexico. That has been a consistent theme, whether passing the Energy Transition Act to move the state to clean energy, continuing to boost the film industry or expanding early childhood education and investing in public schools. These are building blocks to creating a New Mexico where young people return after college to work and raise their families — and where finally, the state reduces its poverty rate and improves educational outcomes for all children.
The governor got a break when Intel’s internal business model morphed. But aggressive efforts like the Local Economic Development Act mean the state is at least ready to talk — and act — when opportunities like this present themselves.
The expansion of Intel is hardly a cure for all that ails New Mexico. But it’s a start that can have a long-lasting impact.