Sandoval County business officials envision a bright immediate future for the area, highlighting the numerous avenues for job growth and expansion.

Fred Shepherd became the CEO of Sandoval Economic Alliance in December.
Photo Amy Byres / Observer

“There’s been a lot of increase and interest in companies looking to expand, relocate … I think there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic (for) the upcoming months and upcoming years,” said Fred Shepherd, president and CEO of Sandoval Economic Alliance.

The emerging job sectors
The notable lines of work aren’t limited to the medical, hospitality and manufacturing industries.

Jerry Schalow, Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said another emerging area for job growth is technology, including biomedical technology such as Nature’s Toolbox, a business that just moved to the City of Vision. He said entities such as NTx are an expandable area for the local economy.

“It’s the emerging job and industry creator in Rio Rancho as a focal point,” Schalow said.

Shepherd said people are starting their own businesses, focusing on their area of expertise under a prior employer. He also said people are becoming more aware of digital marketing and understanding how they can do things virtually, and that’s opened opportunities for more businesses.

With pandemic restrictions lifted, Sandoval County Economic Development Director Dora Dominguez said seven industry sectors — including construction and health services — have seen increased job growth statewide.

When it comes to Sandoval County’s housing and construction boom, Dominguez said attracting businesses specializing in counter tops, cabinets, drapes and interior-design services from Albuquerque to Sandoval County for house construction and remodeling will be a wave.

Jerry Schalow Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO

She also said hospitality is a growing career area where one can learn basic skills like customer service and coming to work on time. Statewide, the leisure and hospitality industry reported a gain of 24,200 jobs in May 2021, according to New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions data.

Continued growth
Dominguez also said the Upskill Sandoval program will help people obtain or retool certain job skills that’ll apply to current employment opportunities, which would in turn help create better-paying jobs.

“I do think the business community is going to get pretty savvy pretty quick on how they incentivize people to come back to work,” Dominguez said.

She also said she’d like to see more opportunity and growth, county and statewide, in higher-earning occupations such as metal fabricators and certified mechanics, plus investment in things like shop classes, to help those who may not be college-bound.

Schalow said Sandoval County’s within 5,000 residents of becoming the state’s third-largest county, and he’s convinced that confidence in the area’s job market is improving.

“There’s a lot of positive momentum, and businesses are liking what they see in Rio Rancho and all of Sandoval County,” he said. “The economy’s there; the jobs are there. What we need to do now is we just need to get people back to work.”

Dominguez said the county’s unemployment rate of 7.4 percent as of May, compared to higher numbers in surrounding counties, is a very positive sign.

Sandoval County Economic Development Director Dora Dominguez

Neighboring Cibola County and McKinley County were at 9.3 and 9.6 percent unemployment, respectively, in May, according to the Department of Workforce Solutions data. Eight counties posted unemployment rates of 8.6 percent or higher in May, and the statewide unemployment rate was 8 percent that month.

Dominguez said there’s not a labor shortage in the state, but rather a labor mismatch.

“For the number of jobs that are available, both in Sandoval County and statewide, the number of people unemployed, the ratio is equal. Now, where do we need people to step in and fill the jobs that are available is the issue,” she said.