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The Bridge is spanning ‘awareness gaps’ to connect employers, job seekers


Through New Mexico True Talent (NMTT), The Bridge of Southern New Mexico is “cultivating an ecosystem of opportunity,” The Bridge President and CEO Tracey Bryan said.

At the NMTT website (newmexicotruetalent.org), The Bridge has “created a hub of information to connect resources to opportunities” and produce “a very clear picture” of what employers in key industries are looking for from the local workforce.

The NMTT initiative is the only comprehensive program alignment plan in the state, Bryan said, and is essential because “the workforce system continues to be our weakest point.”

It also is a vital resource, she said, as New Mexico emerges from the pandemic.

Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker (tracktherecovery.org) estimates the number of small businesses open in Doña Ana County decreased by 45.3 percent from January 2020 to January 2021. Opportunity Insights is a non-partisan, nonprofit based at Harvard University.

The personal finance website WalletHub said weekly unemployment claims in New Mexico increased by 624.91 percent in early July compared to the same week in 2019. Claims increased by 646.68 percent compared to the start of 2020. Both figures are the biggest increases in the U.S.

Weekly unemployment claims in New Mexico decreased by 6.5 percent compared to the same week last year in early July, the second smallest decrease in the U.S. Find the report at wallethub.com/edu/states-unemployment-claims/72730.

About three-quarters of the local businesses lost during the pandemic were small “mom and pop” businesses, said Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Debbi Moore, who is also president of The Bridge’s executive committee.

Those jobs “are not coming back, at least not in the short term,” Bryan said.

“There’s no doubt about it, businesses have closed as a result of the pandemic,” said state Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Doña Ana, who is president and CEO of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce. “There’s no doubt people have lost their jobs. And there’s no doubt that individuals who are now without jobs (are) having to reconsider what their future professional life is going to look like. I think what we are going to see is businesses reinventing how they interact with their customers, how they sell their goods and services and how they plan for crisis, because something like this was never considered,” Hamblen said.

As business, education and government continue to deal with Covid-19, Bryan said they should be asking, “How do you see yourself helping to position the people you represent to take advantage of the opportunities here in Doña Ana County? How do we grow into problem solvers?”

There are “amazing career opportunities right here in Doña Ana County,” Bryan said, “not only Las Cruces, but also in Santa Teresa’s international trade industry due to the nation’s efforts in reshoring (returning the overseas production of critical supplies to the U.S.) and nearshoring (leveraging the additional production capacity of Mexico rather than overseas).”

Another local opportunity, Spaceport America, “puts us at the forefront of the rapidly emerging commercial space industry,” Bryan said. “It’s not just Virgin Galactic. It’s a host of customers using the site and new technologies, things we can’t even imagine at this point. The careers will evolve quickly, in addition to being here right now.”

The message to people looking for jobs is, “Don’t leave here because you thought there was nothing here for you,” she said.

People seeking a career change “might be a course away or a degree away” from a new career track and a better-paying job, she said.

Bryan said NMTT was created in part to “close the awareness gap” that has prevented connections from being made between and among students, those in the workforce seeking a career change, educators and employers. It also helps identify sources of funding and transportation.

“Knowing where to access information is power,” Bryan said.

A lack of information has been especially harmful during Covid, she said, and NMTT is a way to “give people the best possible way to recover.”

“I know what’s possible,” Bryan said. “I’d like to see us all working together.”

As a state senator and president/CEO of the Green Chamber, Hamblen said she has a unique connection to state and local resources, to ask for help and information for local business and to share state government “where there are deficiencies.”

Chambers and other business-serving groups and organizations “have joined together,” Hamblen said, “sharing with each other what resources we have, where we need help from the state and coming up with creative ways to reach out to our businesses.”

It’s important for business owners to take advantage of the resources being offered, she said.

“I get that it’s hard asking for help,” Hamblen said. “When you are a small business owner, your success comes from your determination, from your drive, from why you got into business in the first place. And usually it’s been because of your own hard work. But when we have a crisis like we’ve had over the last 18 months, it is completely fine to ask for help.”

The Bridge, founded in 2009, is a unique collaboration among business, economic development, education and government leaders in Doña Ana County to increase high school and college completion rates and build a skilled workforce. Its board and executive committee include: NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu and Doña Ana Community College President Monica Torres; the superintendents of Las Cruces Public Schools, Gadsden Independent School District and Hatch Valley Public Schools; Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Debbi Moore and Las Cruces Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Curtis Rosemond; Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance (MVEDA) Vice President Les Baldock; and Doña Ana County Assistant County Manager Chuck McMahon.

The Bridge has worked closely with a wide range of partners throughout the pandemic to “create win-win situations,” Bryan said.

Its specific goal is to connect “all the systems that enable our people … to be prepared and ready for middle- and high-skilled careers in specific industries vital for economic development,” according to NewMexicoTrueTalent.org.

The Green Chamber was founded in 2010. Visit locallascruces.com.

Bridge reports analyze key industries

The Bridge of Southern New Mexico has produced detailed reports on key local industries: healthcare; energy; digital media and film; agriculture; aerospace, commercial space and defense; and international trade.

Here are some of the reports’ findings:

  • International trade: “Turnover in this industry currently stands at about 50 percent, presenting an enormous challenge to employers and accounting for high turnover costs. Many employers use temporary agencies to source talent (and) much of the workforce is comprised of Texans rather than New Mexicans, but employers are open to hiring more people from New Mexico.”
  • Aerospace, commercial space and defense: “One of the greatest barriers between prospective workforce talent and careers in the industries is simple awareness. Our youth and young adults are vastly unaware of the opportunities available to them.”
  • Agriculture: “Doña Ana County is the most diverse agricultural area in the state, ranking first in crop value. It is the top producer in the world for pecans, grows 30 percent of all U.S. chile and is second for vegetable production.” The state is also in the top 5 percent nationally for sales in dairy, melons, hay and alfalfa. The county’s ag industry accounts for 4,830 jobs and generates 12 percent of New Mexico’s $3 billion in agriculture revenues. The county has 2,100 farms covering 660,000 acres.
  • Digital media and film: “There is a holistic, reasonably well-connected education pipeline for talent development here between career and technical education programs in high school, the Creative Media Technology program at DACC and the Creative Media Institute at NMSU.”
  • Energy: Electric, natural gas, wind and solar energy “provide more than 1,000 jobs and careers in the region that are at or exceeding the country’s median income.”
  • Healthcare: “The healthcare industry accounts for one out of every five jobs in Doña Ana County. There are nearly 1,000 employers who posted 1,200 jobs in January 2021.
The Bridge of Southern New Mexico