Famed Spanish explorer Francisco Vazquez de Coronado entered the Rio Grande Valley in 1540 on a quest to find the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. Remnants of Coronado’s expedition exist today just minutes north of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Around the same time, Marcos de Niza led an expedition through southern Arizona, where explorers encountered native people along the banks of the Santa Cruz and San Pedro rivers.
Yet another Spaniard, missionary Francisco Garces, was the first European to visit present-day Nevada. He crossed the Mojave Desert in 1776 with the help of indigenous people. In the same year, Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante trekked into the Utah Valley, helping to forge the development of the Spanish Trail that traversed 700 miles to Los Angeles.
Although Spaniards account for only about 1% of the Hispanic population in the U.S. today, their presence is visible in the Southwest Region states of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Art, food, music and language in these four states continue to be influenced by Spanish culture. And roughly 4.7 million of the 15.8 million residents of this region are Hispanic or Latino.
These states had solid economic growth last year in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), or the sum of all goods and services produced. Nevada and New Mexico, with respective GDP growth of 7.9% and 7.6%, exceeded the U.S. average of 6.9%, while Utah (6.5%) and Arizona (6.2%) weren’t far off this pace.
An index created by CNN Business and Moody’s Analytics showed that the economies of seven states had fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels as of this past April. Arizona, Nevada and Utah were among this group while New Mexico’s economy was operating at 94% of pre-pandemic levels.
Due in large part to its education and health care systems, as well as its fiscal stability and infrastructure, Utah ranked third on last year’s “Best States” list from U.S. News & World Report. The state’s largest private employers include Intermountain Healthcare, Delta Airlines and Zions Bancorporation. Utah’s nickname is the Beehive State, which symbolizes individual work for the overall good of the community.
Census figures show that Arizona’s population swelled by 11.9% from 2010 to 2020. Among the nation’s 10 largest cities, Phoenix led the way with growth of 11.2% during the decade. And two Phoenix suburbs, Goodyear and Buckeye, were among the nation’s 10 fastest-growing cities during this time. Three Arizona-based companies (Sprouts Farmers Markets, homebuilder Taylor Morrison and auto retailer Carvana) made the Fortune 500 list for the first time last year.
Although the gambling industry is the engine for Nevada’s economy, the Silver State has a sizable military presence. Nellis Air Force Base employs 13,000 people and is a focal point for advanced combat aviation training. New Mexico, meanwhile, has three Air Force bases (Cannon, Holloman and Kirtland) that employ some 17,000 active-duty, reserve and civilian personnel. ●
In the two-year period ending this past March, the U.S. median home price jumped from $252,000 to $338,000 — an increase of 34%, Zillow reported. As impressive as this growth is, each state in the Southwest Region exceeded it.
In Arizona, the typical single-family home or condominium appreciated by 56% during this period. Utah recorded price growth of 51%, with Nevada at 45% and New Mexico at 35%. Utah had the highest median price in the region in March 2022 at $555,263 while New Mexico’s was the lowest at $281,938, according to Zillow.
Arizona Realtors reported nearly 13,000 home sales this past March, a 5.8% year-over-year decline but still well above levels seen during the same month in 2019 and 2020. Las Vegas Realtors reported about 4,200 sales in March, and although new listings had risen slightly since the start of the year, they were down 10.7% year over year. In the Salt Lake City metro area, meanwhile, single-family home prices were nearing a median of $600,000. This prompted worries of a “market correction” by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, although housing experts believe the strong local job market will greatly reduce the risk of a bursting bubble.
When measuring net tech employment (tech jobs across all business sectors plus supporting roles at tech companies), the Southwest states combined to employ 382,000 people last year, according to the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). Arizona had nearly 193,000 such jobs, good for 16th among all states, while Utah ranked No. 23 with nearly 114,000 positions.
CompTIA also reported that the Salt Lake City and Phoenix metro areas ranked among the top 10 in the U.S. for net tech employment gains in 2021. In terms of tech-worker compensation, however, Arizona was the only Southwest state to land in the top half of the nation last year (ranking No. 21 with an average annual salary of $87,030).
This past March, Nevada officials joined forces with a venture capital firm to invest at least $1 million per year in startups, including those focused on tech enhancements for health care and public safety. Nearly one in five new jobs in the Silver State are created by startups, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
What the locals say
“Our industry here in the Santa Fe area is predominantly health care services, state government, city government. And we are seeing some activity in the film industry. That is an area that the state has really marketed to, in giving film companies incentives to do films here. We’ve got Amazon putting in a big distribution warehouse in Albuquerque. We’ve got Netflix. We’ve got Facebook out further south of Albuquerque. So, jobs are coming in and we all thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to have just the perfect Goldilocks story.’ But post-pandemic, we’re just really suffering with (housing) supply.”
Senior loan officer
3 Cities to Watch
New Mexico’s largest city (population 565,000)is highly diverse as about half of its residents are Hispanic or Latino, while more than 70 different ethnicities are represented. Large employers include T-Mobile, the University of New Mexico Hospital and energy provider PNM Resources. Sandia National Laboratories — which helps to safeguard the nation’s nuclear weapons while carrying out a variety of multidisciplinary science and engineering functions — employs another 12,200 locally.
“The Biggest Little City in the World” added 39,000 residents from 2010 to 2020 and Nevada’s Washoe County now includes 493,000 people. The gambling industry has been under siege for decades as surrounding states have legalized casinos, causing many Reno establishments to go under. Last year, however, the city’s casinos raked in their highest revenues since 2005. The Reno City Center, a mixed-use development with 530 housing units, is a repurposed casino that opened earlier this year.
Arizona’s second-largest city (population 543,000) is about a 90-minute drive south of downtown Phoenix. The University of Arizona’s main campus sits on 380 acres near downtown Tucson. With a student enrollment of 39,000, UA ranked No. 20 among the nation’s public universities with $761 million in annual research and development expenses during fiscal year 2020. The city’s median home-sales price of $321,000 this past February was up 26% compared to one year earlier, Redfin reported.
Sources: Arizona Realtors, Arizona State Museum, Business.org, CDC Gaming Reports, Defense Manpower Data Center, Las Vegas Realtors, Las Vegas Review-Journal, MilitaryBases.com, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada State Historic Preservation Office, New Mexico Historic Sites, New Mexico Partnership, Northern Nevada Business Weekly, Pew Research Center, Phoenix Business Journal, Redfin, Sandia National Laboratories, State of Utah, University of Arizona, Utah Department of Workforce Services, Utah History Encyclopedia, Visit Albuquerque, Zillow