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While much of the U.S. economy is on the rebound, New Mexico remains in the dumps since the recession hit a decade ago. Part of the problem may be a statewide brain drain: educated young people taking their careers -- and expertise -- elsewhere. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports on New Mexico’s mission to bring back its young, energetic entrepreneurs.
The stock market is up, unemployment is down, and much of the U.S. economy is on the rebound, but not for the state of New Mexico.
It's a place that's still down in the dumps a decade after the recession began. Its jobless rate is 6 percent, compared to just 4.1 percent nationally.
Economics correspondent Paul Solman traveled to the Land of Enchantment, where local officials are betting on innovation to spark the turnaround.
It's part of his weekly series, Making Sense.
Now, here's a kind of weird question- Can a hot new photography fad, smoke bomb Web sites, help reignite one of the country's worst performing economies?
There is no good supplier for these smoke bombs.
University of New Mexico junior Kyle Guin hopes to build a smoke bomb supply business right here in New Mexico.
I found a great manufacturer and distributor. And I'm currently working with Amazon fulfillment centers to be one of the only sellers in the U.S. that can have these to your door in two days with Prime shipping.
You will hear from the out-of-the-box entrepreneur who showed off a homegrown snowboard to Richard Berry, when we interviewed him just finishing eight years as mayor of Albuquerque. And hey, says Berry, these days, the mantra everywhere is young entrepreneurs or bust.
Every mayor in the country is worried about why people, young people are moving. Shame on us as a state for 40 years to rely on just government and oil and gas, but now we have this third leg of the economy that's starting to take off.
Starting to take off, he hopes, in the Albuquerque metro area, which houses half the state's two million people. It sure would help New Mexico, whose economy is now ranked a moribund 47th in the nation, with an unemployment rate topped only by Alaska's.
A cause and effect of the malaise, New Mexico's young brains draining away to more promising and populous markets. But there's plenty to like about the Land of Enchantment, says the outgoing mayor.
Obviously, great weather. Mountains. You can ski in the morning, golf in the afternoon, the weather, the landscape, the special size of the places there.
But if you're a would-be entrepreneur, you can also work here on the cheap, a low burn rate, as they say in the start-up world.
And that's for someone like the snowboard guy, who it's still not quite time to hear from.
You can come here to start businesses, fail, fail fast, fail forward much, much less expensively than you can other places.
Ideal location for a start-up, says economic development pro Gary Oppedahl.
Big skies, big ideas. People think big. That's why such great things as the nuclear weapons whole industry, to Microsoft was formed here, to Goddard, to the first computer ever, to Smokey the Bear and breakfast burritos.
The latest big idea is a largely government-bankrolled, seven-acre, $150 million innovation complex downtown, anchored by the Rainforest, an ecosystem of business folk and college types.
Kyle Guin is an enterprising young brain the state wants to keep. So the university provides an apartment upstairs from his classes and space to work on his start-ups- smoke bomb supplier, an app called Pencil-In that scans documents with dates and zips them into your digital calendar.
This was from one of my math classes last semester. So you just take our app, you photograph it. Once you photograph it, you just go to your calendar.
Done, saved successfully. Good.
Now go check the calendar.
And there it is. Oh, my God.
So, on February 3, you have vector functions.
Last day to drop without a grade.
Just across the parking lot is a makerspace operated by the local community college. The building, recently a soup kitchen, hosts would-be entrepreneurs, a 3-D printed guitar maker, and at last our custom snowboard maker, Marty Bonacci.
One of the benefits of being in this makerspace was that I didn't have to pay huge overhead, buy all this equipment up front, or lease it and incur all the overhead costs associated with building out the space. That's a big investment and a big risk.
What if you're a young entrepreneur? Why would you come here?
The burn rate's less. We have a billion-dollar arts economy. You match the arts with the sciences, and you have a place that accepts you. All of a sudden now, you can have these human collisions with a varied and diverse group of people that can add value to your proposition.
As they have to the movie and TV business, says the former mayor.
You and I could partner up.
Those are the stars of the hit cable series "Breaking Bad," which itself partnered up with an eager New Mexico, where the show was made, boasts development booster Gary Oppedahl.
"Breaking Bad" was a blockbuster, right? The film office here is one of the best in the world, not says us, says Hollywood.
The state has been making a special effort to court TV and movie companies, says Mayor Berry.
Captain America, the Iron Man films, the Terminator films, a lot of those were filmed right here. We have the largest film studio in North America five miles south of here. That happened because we were intentional about attracting it.
OK, you get the pitch, big skies, low overhead, big mountains, big hopes, but for the state's economy to clamber up from 47th, it also needs to hoist its Native American population, one in 10 new Mexicans.
The state's 22 tribes don't all measure unemployment, but to take just one example, the Navajo Nation's rate is north of 20 percent.
First baby step, the indigenous Comic-Con, brainchild of the guy in the hat texting, Lee Francis, from the Laguna Pueblo 47 miles west of Albuquerque. The event draws Native vendors and all sorts of visitors from far and wide.
The big idea is the same here- entrepreneurship as problem-solver. Native visitors were asked to post their problems, their villains on a board, coal mining, alcoholism, drugs, domestic violence.
Domestic violence is a huge one, but around the drugs and alcohol, it's like, oh, well this is how it is. This is how Natives are.
An exaggerated stereotype, says Francis, but part of the Native self-image. So the larger goal here is to spur Natives to reframe the narrative.
Cartoonist Ricardo Cate does it by reframing their history.
We're not focusing on your alcoholism. We're not focusing on the drug. We're not focusing on the unemployment. We're saying, hey, there's some really cool stuff. Let's let the imagination fly.
And why the images of pop culture superheroes?
If we can get in front of our young people and begin to spark that they can be superheroes, that they can be the heroes of their communities, then they begin to think outside of what they have been locked into. And that's where entrepreneurship begins.
Rod Velarde, for example, who applies his Jicarilla Apache grandfather's traditional designs to Star Wars characters to inspire enterprising young Natives to prosper and return.
We had a family song. It's called, "Go My Son." "Go My Son" says — talks about an Indian chief talking to his kids. He says, go, my son. Go get an education. Go out there and see the world, but come back and teach your own people.
Put them in the driver's seat, so to speak, and hope that they will find their way back home.
Our last new businessman, Zeke Pena, who works with students to produce and publish a low-budget zine aimed at keeping teens in school, first by focusing on themselves.
My experience growing up wasn't having my story represented in schools, so I was fortunate to stay connected and graduate, right? But a lot of people drop out, and drop out because they disengage and they are not really connected to what they're learning about, right?
Pena also teaches students digital skills they can trade on anywhere.
If you have become very successful in digital media, do you go to, you know, bigger and bigger places?
We're like the next generation. We're going to be the ones that get New Mexico to the top. So, if I do become a professional, I'm not going to leave, because I'm going to stay here and I'm going to help New Mexico grow up and become more successful.
Back at the University of New Mexico, smoke bomb entrepreneur Kyle Guin knows the bigger places question well.
There's probably more's resources. There's probably more money. But there's also 10,000 of me. Here in Albuquerque, there's only one of me.
So, you're a big fish in a small pond.
I'm a big fish in a small pond.
A pond that his state is desperately trying to grow.
For the PBS NewsHour, this is economics correspondent Paul Solman, reporting from New Mexico.
Watch the Full Episode
Paul Solman has been a business, economics and occasional art correspondent for the PBS NewsHour since 1985.
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