Alamogordo Town News: The Economic Benefits of Nature, Paired with the Cultural Arts To Alamogordo’s Business Growth

Conserving one of southern New Mexico’s greatest assets, the region’s natural areas from White Sands to the Lincoln National Forest and well beyond, is a foundation for economic vibrancy, then paring that preservation with innovation and partnership with the cultural arts community, is a win for Alamogordo and a win for New Mexico. Tourism alone is the state’s second largest industry, bringing more than $5.7 billion to New Mexico annually.

New Mexico’s fish, wildlife, and habitats annually contribute $3.8 billion to the state’s economy through hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. These activities sustain 47,000 jobs (more than farming and forestry combined) and generate more than $184 million in yearly sales tax revenue.

Two of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, people working in knowledge-based industries and retirees, often have a choice of where to live. Surveys consistently have identified natural amenities and recreation opportunities as key factors determining where
entrepreneurs and retirees chose to locate.

Since 1990, almost all net new jobs in the U.S. economy have been in services related sectors, a broad category that ranges from tourism-related jobs to high wage occupations such as engineering, architecture, or software design. Many of these are “footloose” businesses able to locate almost anywhere. Services sector employment today ranges from nearly 70
percent in Eddy and Grant counties to 84 percent in Dona Ana County and more than 90 percent in Guadalupe and Socorro counties.

In addition, retirement and investment income is growing in importance, particularly as the baby boomer generation enters retirement age. Many of these new residents will bring wealth they accumulated elsewhere, this is especially noticeable with the housing crunch facing Alamogordo.  It is not unusual to find counties such as Chaves and Otero where non-labor income represented 40 percent of total personal income, or Valencia County where it grew by 60 percent in the last 20 years.

Tourism and recreation meaning not just natural resources recreation but also participation in the arts, in performance art, in fitness events and in cultural interaction with nature  playing a even more substantial role in rural communities and thus leading to cultural and tourism business growth as a result of tourism. The beauty brings them here the cultural community acts so that they spend here.

A study by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that “recreation paired with the cultural arts feeds tourism development and contributes
to rural well-being, increasing local employment, wage levels, and income, reducing poverty, and improving education and health.” Job earnings in rural and cultural arts focused recreational counties, for example, are $2,000  to $4000 more per worker than for those in other rural counties without the benefit of cultural and natural resource opportunities to engage tourists.

Industries that include travel, cultural arts and tourism are growing, increasing to nearly 30 percent of total employment in certain areas of New Mexico and the western states. These employment numbers in southern New Mexico counties span from nearly 50 percent in Guadalupe County to 15 percent in Lea County. Otero county and the city of Alamogordo are particularly well positioned with the White Sands National Park and the Lincoln National Forest just outside the cities borders. The growth of hotels increase the tax base but it could grow more with a continued investment in entertainment venues, bars, sports complexes. art galleries, art exhibition halls and expanded street fairs to keep the tourism dollars in the city of Alamogordo and in Otero County.

Historically creative artist and performing artist groups are more strongly concentrated in urban rather than rural New Mexico, however a greater number of outdoorsy types in the arts community prefer rural living and art creation but find many smaller towns are not collaborative in building an arts community and don’t understand the wealth generation ability of the arts to the small towns tax base. The large art, information and cultural arts small business developments shows a bias in favor of urban New Mexico due to government inaction of support in the smaller communities. This creates an opportunity for Alamogordo City leaders to embrace the arts and cultural community as a compliment to tourism to enhance job growth fill vacant retail locations and grow the sales tax base from tourism thus helping local citizens.

Artists have always been ‘non-traditional workers’, and have proven to be resilient which is witnessed even more so as we evolve from a post Covid-19 world. 

They are more self-reliant and entrepreneurial, and have a skill set that many non-artist occupations are now having to learn in order to cope with the realities of the broader economy. 

Artists have more UNM Bureau of Business & Economic Research experience than the US workforce in general in hustling to cobble together income from multiple sources.  According to the study, two-thirds of artists have at least one job in addition to their work as an artist. Nearly 60% of artists with secondary employment are employed in A&C related fields, whether in academia (51%), commercial arts (43%) or non-profit organizations (42%). They perform jobs such as teaching, grant making, and consulting to non-profit arts organizations.

Many New Mexican artists, like those surveyed nationally, cobble together incomes from various sources. Art and cultural entrepreneurs often work as freelance business people, and as such, it is often difficult for them to access the “personal infrastructure” – high-speed Internet access, health care, financial advice, retirement, housing and more – they need in order to effectively work and prosper. Since as individuals they are not part of a large consumer pool, which generally is offered better rates for various services than individuals, these creative entrepreneurs live a more economically insecure life. 

Artists and creative professionals are at the forefront of a general trend in the 21st century economy at adapting and adapted better during the Covid-19 crises in which more workers will not have lifetime or even long-term employment with a single employer, and instead will be reliant on multiple and changing sources of income as freelance workers.

Our city commissioners, mayor, county board of commissioners and congress woman in learning how better to provide this infrastructure and a foundation for our creative freelancers, we then have the opportunity to better understand how to better serve a growing segment of the 21st century economy and grow the Alamogordo tax base and employment base.

The Downtown Alamogordo Main Street leadership group is at the cutting edge of this in their proposals to rebuild and upgrade downtown Alamogordo. The citizens need to rally around this effort and pressure our elected leadership to jump all in to support the goals of Alamogordo Main Street, to fund, create ordinances and policies of support and garner the Main Street New York Avenue area into a model for Southern New Mexico leadership.

Let’s get to business! Let’s work together to grow the tourism, natural beauty and cultural arts opportunities that are before us, to grow Alamogordo to a city of cultural distinction as a innovator in business partnerships between the business sector, non-profit sector and government in respect to arts and tourism. In collaboration we all win!

Travelers look for an “authentic experience,” and our community has its own special attributes that set it apart from others. These features include our history, traditions, and yes, our arts and culture. Our community has a story to tell, and finding an engaging way to tell that tale is one way to attract visitors and keep visitors longer thus jobs for Alamogordo and Otero County!

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