The oldest continuously inhabited town in the U.S. isn’t anywhere near the East Coast — it’s likely in northeast Arizona. Oraibi was founded sometime between A.D. 1100 and 1150 by the Hopi tribe, who continue to live there today.
Some of the oldest communities in North America exist in the American Southwest, including several pueblos in New Mexico, permanent indigenous settlements that were established hundreds of years before the signing of Declaration of Independence. Today, Native Americans make up a significant portion of the population in the Southwest Region of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
Arizona ranks No. 1 with more than 330,000 Native Americans while New Mexico ranks No. 4 with nearly 200,000. Nevada comes in at No. 18 (42,000) and Utah is No. 21 (35,000).
The Southwest states are some of the fastest growing in the nation. Utah ranks No. 1, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, with the Beehive State growing by 17% and adding 474,000 residents between 2010 and 2020. Nevada was No. 5, growing its population from 2.7 million to 3.1 million.
Arizona added more than 1 million residents, growing from 6.4 million to 7.4 million for a 16% increase. New Mexico saw only a 2% increase over the decade, adding some 41,000 new residents to push the state’s total to 2.1 million. Only Wyoming grew slower than New Mexico in the West.
These states’ economies rely on resource extraction, ranching and agriculture, and health care. Other industries are emerging, such as the renewable-energy sector in New Mexico and the Silicon Slopes technology cluster in Utah.
The oil and gas industry is vital for New Mexico, which has about 8% of the nation’s crude-oil reserves. To some extent, each of the states in the Southwest Region rely on tourism, which has taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. This past April, Utah and Arizona ranked No. 4 and No. 6, respectively, for highest infection rates since the start of the pandemic. Nevada came in at No. 23 and New Mexico at No. 35.
Utah isn’t normally thought of in terms of high finance, but one of the largest investment funds in the world is located in Salt Lake City. The Wall Street Journal reported that Ensign Peak Advisors, which serves as the investment fund for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had amassed about $100 billion.
In terms of worldwide assets, the fund ranks behind only the state investment arms of China and Russia, and it is about twice the size of investment funds for the Catholic Church and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Mormons make up a significant portion of the population of these states. Utah is No. 1 with more than 2 million Mormon residents while Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico have about 675,000 combined.
The defense industry is important to these states, especially Arizona and New Mexico. Defense-contract spending is pegged at $12.9 billion in the Grand Canyon State while 5.7% of gross domestic product in the Land of Enchantment is tied to military spending. Federal jobs comprise about 12% of New Mexico’s total employment.
Inventory woes are hurting the Southwest Region just like everywhere else in the nation. The Phoenix metropolitan area saw a 62.4% decline in active listings from March 2020 to March 2021, according Realtor.com.
The Las Vegas metro area saw active listings decrease by 40.9% during the same period. Meanwhile, a real estate agent in Santa Fe, New Mexico, reported this past March that only 148 single-family homes were available in the city and surrounding areas, with only 22 listed for less than $500,000.
Home prices for each of these four states have increased sharply in the past three years. Arizona saw the price of a typical home jump by 36.3% from 2018 to 2021, according to Zillow. Utah saw a 33.5% increase during this time while New Mexico and Nevada home values soared by 25.5% and 21.7%, respectively.
Nevada’s fortunes are entwined with visitors from the U.S. and abroad. Silver State tourism has taken a beating during the COVID-19 crisis with a 43% drop last year in spending on travel, lodging and dining, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Spending declined from $45.9 billion in the state in 2019 to $26 billion in 2020.
Each of the Southwest states, in fact, saw steep declines in travel spending, the association reported. Spending in New Mexico dropped by 39%, going from $8.3 billion in 2019 to $5.1 billion last year. In Arizona, the drop-off hit 35% ($23.5 billion down to $15.3 billion) while Utah saw a 33% decline ($10.5 billion to $7 billion.)
Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park attracted only 2.9 million visitors last year, about half of its total in 2019, the National Park Service reported. It went from being the second most-popular park in the nation to sixth. Zion National Park in Utah had about 900,000 fewer visitors in 2020, although it actually improved its standing by becoming the third most-attended national park.
What the locals say
“[The housing market is] on fire. There are just no houses to sell. I think we’re down to, like, 640 homes that are listed in the (Tuscon, Arizona) market right now. For Tucson, 6,500 is a healthy market. Phoenix, percentage wise, is even worse. A lot of cash buyers or people from out of state are selling their homes for a premium and coming here to get more house. … I moved out here permanently in 2006. It’s 300 days of sunshine and no natural disasters. That’s pretty tough to beat.”
Senior loan officer/team manager
V.I.P. Mortgage Inc.
3 Cities to Watch
The second most-populous city in Utah is named after a Quebecois fur trapper, Etienne Provost. The city was established in 1849 by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Located about 45 miles south of downtown Salt Lake City, present-day Provo has a population of more than 116,000. Major employers include Brigham Young University with about 4,100 full-time employees, home-security company Vivint and investment company RBD Acquisition. Median household income for the city is $48,888.
Type “Roswell” into a search engine and one of the first results to appear is the Roswell UFO incident, referring to a local newspaper report in 1947 that the U.S. military had come into possession of a flying saucer. Although the story has been debunked, the New Mexico city of 47,000 has capitalized on the alien conspiracy theories with the International UFO Museum and a UFO Festival. The museum was shut down for months by the pandemic while the festival was canceled last year but may restart in 2021.
No other city in the world offers as many hotel rooms as Las Vegas (about 150,000 as of 2019). Predictably, the pandemic has devastated Sin City. About 60,000 local bartenders and restaurant workers were furloughed when casinos were shut down last year. Only 19 million people visited the city last year, down from 42.5 million in 2019, while casino tax revenues dropped by 40% year over year. Analysts predict a strong rebound this year due to pent-up demand for travel and entertainment, along with widespread vaccinations.
Sources: Al Bawaba (Amman, Jordan); Carlsbad Current-Argus; Daily Herald (Provo, Utah); Federal Reserve; KRQE-TV; Las Vegas Review-Journal; Loyalty Traveler; National Defense Magazine; National Park Service; Realtor.com; Santa Fe New Mexican; Silicon Slopes; Stacker; The Associated Press; The Brooks Companies; The Culture Trip; The New York Times; The Wall Street Journal; The Washington Post; U.S. Department of Energy; U.S. News & World Report; U.S. Travel Association; USA Today; Utah.com; World Atlas; Zillow