Job Outlook: Albuquerque, NM

In 2008, Forbes magazine named Albuquerque the 13th best place in the U.S. for business and careers, down from the No. 1 spot in 2006. While no large company is headquartered there, it is a research and technology center with many small high-tech, growing firms. The Rio Grande Technology Corridor stretches from Los Alamos 95 road miles north all the way to Las Cruces (New Mexico State, White Sands Missile Range, Holloman AFB) about 250 miles south.

Albuquerque, by the Numbers

Albuquerque's unemployment rate in April 2011 was 7.2%, after years hovering around 5%. That is about 2% under the national rate, and a portion of it is due to the collapsing construction industries-there was a mini-boom in the 2000s.

Jobs With The Military

Kirtland Air Force Base drives much of the city's economy, with over 16,000 civilian employees. Counting off-base contractors, it is responsible for 27,000 jobs, which includes 4,860 military. It is home to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, the Operational Test and Evaluation Center, the 58th Special Operations Wing, the Directed Energy and Space Vehicle Directorates and many smaller units.

Sandia National Laboratories is based at Kirtland, and currently employs about 8,200, many with higher degrees in science and engineering. Its budget has held steady at $2.2B. It currently has about 200 openings, 85 of them in its Livermore, CA facility. Many of these require a Ph.D or advanced engineering degree. A job at Sandia is highly desirable, as it pays well above other employers, with excellent benefits.

Information Technology

Information technology jobs still see strong hiring, as the defense and energy sectors are tremendously compute-intensive. However, Sandia and many of the defense firms are increasingly hiring contractors rather employees for IT jobs. New Mexico is an At Will employment state, so firms can (and do) dispose of workers overnight. A contract win or loss can lead to a furious burst of hiring or mass layoffs.

The Public Sector

Public institutions account for 20% of the employment. The University of New Mexico and Albuquerque Public Schools each employ just over 14,000, although APS is at the lower end of the nation's pay scale. Albuquerque saw a spate of back office or call centers during the 1990s; some of these have scaled back or left.

With the Air Force labs (and Sandia to a lesser extent) there, most defense firms have regional offices. These are typically small organizations, sometimes only a branch manager, a few salespersons, and support personnel, but sometimes much larger. But Albuquerque also has a host of start-up and small companies, also mostly focused on defense or energy technologies. On the cities south side, Mesa Del Sol is a planned community that has drawn defense, motion picture and two solar energy companies – Albuquerque is one of the sunniest cities in the world.

It's Not All Sunshine, Though

Not all news is good. The Intel fabrication plant in Rio Rancho has shrunk to 3,300 employees and GE Aviation, after shrinking for years, left in late 2010. While a total of seventeen "name" companies have left since 2002, the largest (AOL) employed 900, with many employing only a few hundred. Some had shrunk down to skeleton staffs by the time they closed. In general, though, there have not been the upheavals faced by larger metropolitan areas. Albuquerque is a retirement destination, so there are many assisted care or nursing home jobs available, again low-paying.

Local Culture

Albuquerque is a multi-cultural city with a metro population of 846,000. The population is 71.6% Caucasian, 39.9% Hispanic, 3.9% American Indian, 4.3% Multiracial, 3.1% African American and 15.6% others.

Seven American Indian casinos are in the Albuquerque area. All have built either complete resorts or substantial local accommodations. Casino and resort jobs are plentiful but usually low paying.

Growth, Now and Future

Albuquerque and New Mexico have experienced a dramatic growth in the motion picture industry, so there are opportunities for gaffers, gofers, lighting experts and other crew jobs, as well as for extras. Albuquerque Studios includes eight sound stages, production office space, mill space, and a large back lot.

Because of the Air Force, Sandia, and the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque's economy and population have grown steadily. The city did not see the wild growth spurts and soaring housing prices of many Sunbelt cities, but neither did it see the even wilder plummet. The best paying jobs are often highly specialized; the average wage is well below the national average while the cost of living is slightly below.

Having lived there for almost 20 years, Albuquerque lacks the spirited younger professional scene found in, for example, Colorado or Arizona cities of similar size. Offsetting that, the weather and outdoor activities are wonderful year-round.

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