Sandoval County’s growth is outpacing that of the rest of the state.
“This area is by far the fastest-growing region in the entire state,” said Jerry Schalow during Wednesday’s quarterly luncheon hosted by the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We’re not only adding jobs, we’re adding residents and we’ve got a great opportunity for further population growth and economic investment.”
The chamber’s CEO and president also said that the region, including Rio Rancho, Corrales, Bernalillo, Santa Ana and Placitas and northwest Albuquerque is leading the state in the economic rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.
While Schalow acknowledged hiring has been tough for local businesses, Wednesday’s program also highlighted ways the chamber, New Mexico Workforce Connection and Workforce Connection of Central New Mexico can assist those hiring and those seeking jobs.
“We have a number of businesses that are here today that have just struggled to hire,” he said. “It’s been a tough hiring experience. So today what we’re doing is we have workforce connections. They have some outstanding opportunities to help you bring staff aboard, help you cover some of the costs.”
He also said one of the ways Rio Rancho is ahead of the game is the coming CTE center in Rio Rancho. “We have to train our workforce, and career-technical education is a big piece. That’s the first step,” Schalow said. “The tough part with CTE is it’s an investment today, but we’re not going to reap the benefits for probably four to eight years. It’s going to take time.”
He also credited state Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, for carrying legislation at the Roundhouse this session that funds such programs at the state level. “Everyone in New Mexico says CTE is important, but he’s the one that’s really taking it to heart, so hats off to Senator Brandt.”
The program also includes Central New Mexico Community College moving its automotive program, including electric vehicles, to Rio Rancho. “That is a huge opportunity. Folks that are on the West Side or Rio Rancho, everybody had to go east to go to UNM or CNM for different training. Now both will be going from east to west for auto, which is a great opportunity,” Schalow said. “Those are the types of things that’s making a difference in this community.”
Toward the end of the program, Schalow also spoke on the Discover Sandoval program that recently launched. The program is an effort to sell Sandoval County to businesses and job-seekers alike.
“There’s a lot of desperation in California and some other places,” Schalow said about recent layoffs at several high-profile companies. “This community here is a different community … With the Rio Rancho Chamber, we’re really focused in on not making sure that we actually buy into this recession idea.
“Here in Sandoval County, Rio Rancho, West Side, Bernalillo, let’s grow this area. Let’s not buy into the recession. And let’s just get this thing growing and growing. We have the jobs; let’s fill them and let’s grow this economy and make this area happen.”
The program, he said, is working to sell the county to those who have faced job losses and high cost of living elsewhere. Particularly, they are using geotagging to hone in on the areas of businesses with those high-profile layoffs to advertise Sandoval County to those residents.
And, he said, statistics help sell the region to them:
- Cost of living is low: Numbers provided at the event show that rent on a two-bedroom apartment is $917 while the average home price for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home is $325,000. Some comparisons to other cities: San Jose, $4,28/$1,360,000; Los Angeles, $2,820/$999,000; Denver, $1,538/$562,000; Dallas, $1,607/$465,000; Phoenix, $1,533/$445,000. And, Schalow said, while those prices are significantly lower in Rio Rancho/Sandoval County, wages for similar jobs are comparable with wages in those areas.
- Low crime: While Albuquerque’s crime rate is fourth in the nation, it’s a different story in Rio Rancho. The crime rate is the lowest in the Southwest for cities with population over 100,000. Corrales has the lowest crime rate in the state, Schalow said.
- Education: It’s a misconception that the workforce in Sandoval County is not educated, he said. However, 34.2% of the workforce has a bachelor’s degree while 43.7% has at least an associate’s degree. “That is the U.S. average. We are in the U.S. average in those categories,” Schalow said.
- Population growth: Schalow broke up population numbers from northwest Albuquerque and each of Rio Rancho’s ZIP codes as well as noting that Corrales, Bernalillo and Placitas have each seen significant growth with a total population of 347,000. “If we were to look at this state, in New Mexico, that is by far the second-largest city in the state. And that is a region we have potential to grow,” he said. He also noted that Bernalillo County has lost population. “We have all the tools from a population standpoint. It will be a boon for Rio Rancho, Sandoval County and Albuquerque. It’ll be a huge boom.”
The issue, he said, is that 62% of Rio Rancho’s workforce is leaving the county every day, “which means we need businesses to relocate and move here.” The 2020 census shows that there’s one job per 8.26 residents in Rio Rancho while other locations in New Mexico have one job per 2-3 residents. “That is a significant difference,” Schalow said. “Those are jobs we’ve got to bring here into the community, and we’ve got to fill the jobs we’ve got.”