September 23, 2023

Is our pond too small or are we fishing in the wrong place?

Posted on 14. Jul, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy

I have a friend who’s decided to move her business out of New Mexico. This was not an easy decision. I know, because we discussed it over many months. I failed to persuade her, however, and she’ll be hanging out her company shingle in Dallas in July after living nearly a decade here. She will be leaving behind a grown daughter, many friends and business contacts, former clients and good memories gleaned from many positive experiences. Businesses – like people – can’t survive on memories or on past successes. In our American society, we are only as good as our last performance, but when this is coupled with a deepening recession and the New Mexican attitude of what have you done for me lately, we could see many more businesses head for the exit sign.

Let me explain before this gets too confusing.

Our business sector is not healthy. We don’t have enough well-funded, experienced small businesses that can compete with top notch products and services, and even if they could, there aren’t enough potential customers out there or enough wealth in circulation to sustain them.

We’re top heavy with federal investment in the form of our national labs and military bases, and while these institutions (which I truly admire) do great work and serve to push up our average earnings in the state by employing lots of PhDs and technology specialists, they don’t push out nearly enough of that wealth of creativity and knowledge beyond their walls to the pond where entrepreneurs can turn it into New Mexican jobs. I feel obliged at this point to fall on one knee and thank the Feds for allowing us to keep our bases and labs, otherwise we’d be in double-digit unemployment territory. Without them we’d have fewer ‘downstream’ businesses (suppliers to the labs), and that would set off big alarm bells in hundreds of New Mexican families.

What I’m really saying is that we’re too dependent on federal government investment. We’re not diversified enough. We don’t have enough light-to-medium manufacturing. We don’t have a critical mass of larger companies that use the services of smaller ones. We don’t have enough semi-skilled labor or labor that is ‘second-tier technical’ (the near scientists).  Our tax environment is business unfriendly and our state bureaucracy is unwieldy. While our heads may be soaring in the clouds of the information age and the new-tech economy, our feet and attitudes are mired in the bottom of the pond.

I lived in Singapore for four years, and the expats there would sometimes make fun of their unusual English language usage. For example, when asked if they (the native Singaporeans) could do something, the response was almost always, “Can, can.” There was never a quizzical or doubtful look, but always a positive retort, no matter if redundant. Singaporeans wanted to work and were willing to – any time, any place.

New Mexico is a long way from Singapore in many ways, but I refuse to believe that we’re past the point of no return from that long slide towards bottom. To keep from doing so we will need to make some tough decisions about what kind of business climate we want in the future, otherwise we will most definitely find ourselves swimming with the fishes instead of angling for them. The timing couldn’t be better. Our 100th birthday as a state is coming up in 2012. Let’s start talking about how we can make New Mexico more business-friendly, so that more of them don’t leave us behind with only their memories to keep our tax base warm.

Stephan J. HelgesenStephan Helgesen is a former U.S. diplomat and is currently Honorary Consul for Germany in New Mexico. He can be reached at:


One Response to “Is our pond too small or are we fishing in the wrong place?”

  1. Lynn (NM Enchantment) 14 June 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    This article hits very close for me. It’s hard to sustain a business in NM for a lot of reasons, which you mentioned. Sadly, the feds don’t make it easy to be a small business either. I agree wholeheartedly- let’s focus on bringing small business success to NM!! Can’t wait to see your updates.

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