From thousands of feet in the air, there appeared to be no turbulence in New Mexico's economy last July.
"New Mexico has improved its business climate more than any other state in the west over the past three years," reads the first sentence of a 24-page profile of the state's economy featured in Dossier, an economic development series published by the United Airlines magazine, United Hemispheres.
But monthly data released by the US Department of Labor—which measures economic activity in the nation—points to very different conclusions.
Just as United Airlines passengers might have been reading about how Republican Gov. Susana Martinez "orchestrated one of the most remarkable economic turnarounds in New Mexico history," the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported
that New Mexico was one of four states in the nation that saw "statistically significant job decreases" from May to June, when the Land of Enchantment shed 4,700 jobs.
There's a bit of potentially positive news coming out of the new data, which hasn't been seasonally adjusted yet: unemployment in the state dropped from 7.6 percent in June 2013 to 7.3 percent in June 2014. (Lower unemployment sometimes also reflects the "discouraged worker" phenomenon previously covered
by SFR, wherein the unemployed completely drop out of the workforce altogether, thus reducing unemployment).
Besides, has "New Mexico has improved its business climate more than any other state in the west"?
The bureau's recent data indicate otherwise.
New Mexico had the lowest decrease in unemployment when compared to its neighbors Texas, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.
In fact, from June 2013 to June 2014, only four states saw smaller decreases in unemployment than New Mexico. Three of the states—Wyoming and the Dakotas—saw 0.2 percent dip in unemployment. However, those three states don't have an unemployment rate above 4.4 percent. New Mexico's unemployment rate is currently at 7.3 percent, according to the preliminary data. Alabama was the only state that saw an increase in unemployment, by 0.2 percent.
The Martinez Economic Development Department was nonetheless excited about the report.
"For the entire month of July, a 24-page piece focusing on the on [sic] advantages of doing business in New Mexico was featured on every United Airlines flight," reads the department's August newsletter. "United Hemispheres magazine has a worldwide reach of more than 3.1 million people."
Carsten Morgan, vice president of special sections for Ink, which publishes the airline magazines, says the New Mexico report was available on all United Airlines flights for the month of July.
The Dossier series
of United Hemispheres
has conducted similarly positive reports on places like Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana.
"We tend to focus on communities that are misunderstood, are ignored and are in the midst of a economic renaissance," he tells SFR. "It’s a story that has not been told before. There are a number of negative stigmas and misnomers about the state that are simply not true."
“In dealing with economic development initiatives, perception is reality,” Morgan told
The Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development in September 2012. “Kentucky’s diverse economy and approach to development will undoubtedly delight and inspire our global audience.”
He says New Mexico didn't pay for the report, but it did order 5,000 reprints of it. Neither the state nor the companies featured in the story controlled its editorial content, he adds. The magazine staff "reached out" to state officials to conduct the report last spring, he says, and conducted "20 or so meetings throughout the state" for a week.
He says the series is meant to target United Airlines business passengers. The airlines has a higher concentration of business traffic than any other airline, he says, professional types who are "in a position to get people to invest in the market."
Asked if he considers the publication a journalistic enterprise, he responds in the affirmative, but also adds that "the magazine's objective is to promote the best interest of the airline."
"And that includes increasing the traffic to New Mexico," says Morgan.
SFR asked about the gap between the article's rosy portrait of the state economy and the reality on the ground. Morgan says the article "isn't meant for people in New Mexico" but for United Airlines business passengers, who will "be able to find that other picture" in the mainstream media. He adds that the negative news like high unemployment means more opportunity for businesses, like lower cost of living.
"Jobs in New Mexico will be created as a direct result of this story," he says. "I’ve seen it happen time and time again."
Dossier July 2014 by justinhorwath