The national unemployment rate shrunk to 3.5 percent in both November and December of last year, a significantly lower number than was reported in January of 2019 when the rate stood at 4 percent.
According to a new survey published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate overall has steadily declined since 2010 when it stood at just under 10 percent.
The state with the largest unemployment rate in late 2019 was Alaska at 6.1 percent, followed by Mississippi, the District of Columbia, and West Virginia.
In the West, New Mexico recorded a 4.8 percent employment rate, followed by Arizona at 4.7 percent, and Colorado, coming in below the national average, at 2.6 percent.
Only five states had lower unemployment rates than Colorado: Virginia at 2.6 percent, North Dakota with 2.5 percent, Utah and South Carolina at 2.4 percent, and Vermont at 2.3 percent.
A separate measurement, looking at discouraged and underemployed workers, records an unemployment rate at 6.7 percent, the lowest in more than two decades.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, there were 277,000 discouraged and underemployed workers in December, down by nearly 100,000 from late 2018.
“Discouraged workers,” noted the survey, “are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available to them.”
This category also includes people not looking for work because they believed they lacked the required school or training for a given job, or thought would-be employers regarded them as “too young or too old, and other types of discrimination.”
By Garry Boulard
The closing of the last tenant space at the once very popular Fiesta Mall in Mesa, Arizona is sparking talk regarding the future of the 1 million square foot shopping center.
Dillard’s Clearance Center, an offshoot of the larger Dillard’s chain featuring discounted clothes, announced its exit from the mall last fall.
The chain’s decision to close its store caps a more than decade-long drain of tenants for a mall that once featured more than one hundred small stores and restaurants.
Built at a cost of $55 million and opened in the fall of 1979, the Fiesta Mall at 1445 W. Southern Avenue was for years one of the most successful shopping centers in the southwest.
Analysts trace its decline to the opening of the 1.2 million square foot Arizona Malls in nearby Tempe in 1997.
During the course of the next two decades, the Fiesta Mall saw a number of its largest tenants move out, with less than a third of the center’s retail space rented out by late 2016.
The Phoenix-based Dimension Financial & Realty Investments purchased the property three years ago for $7.7 million and said it would spend up to $30 million transforming the space into a higher education campus.
Although that idea was never executed, city officials have expressed interest in seeing the mall redeveloped as a mix-used site.
But one of the obstacles confronting any repurposing project has been the number of other developers, besides Dimension, owning a portion of the property.
According to reports, as many as five developers have had a stake in the property, a number that has since decreased to two.
That lower number, according to city officials, should make it easier for the City of Mesa to help coordinate a redevelopment of the site.
Notes the Arizona Republic: “The city is waiting to see ‘one unified vision’ - either with one group buying out the other for the sole ownership, or the two collaborating on a joint plan.”
By Garry Boulard
A fundraising campaign is now underway for the construction of an $8 million hospice inpatient facility that will go up on the southside of Fort Collins.
Pathways Hospice says the new facility will have enough room for a dozen beds and will be built on currently vacant property next to the company’s headquarters at 305 Carpenter Road.
Rooms will also be provided for family members staying overnight.
Additional features will include skylights, a spacious lobby, communal kitchen, and chapel.
The new facility is partly in response to demographic forecasts projecting a triple digit increase in area residents over the age of 65 in the next two decades.
In a statement, Nate Lamkin, the president of Pathways, said, “The time to build a stand-alone, inpatient hospice care center is now if we are going to meet the needs of our patients and families going forward.”
The structure will be especially designed to allow for the construction of additional space should it be needed in the future.
Pathways hopes to issue a formal construction request for the project sometime next month.
As proposed, the new facility will be a semi-circular structure, with a courtyard, garden, and patio space to the front and sides of the building.
In business since 1978, Pathways has seen its patient load increase by anywhere from 10 to 15 percent in recent years.
By Garry Boulard
chamber of commerce leader issues upbeat report on economy, combined with worries about increased washington rancor
The economy as the nation heads into a new decade has never been stronger or more resilient, maintains Thomas Donahue, the chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But in a new address to Chamber members, Donahue expressed concerns about the impact the 2020 campaign year will have on getting things done in Washington.
“2020 will be a year of frantic activity,” said Donahue. “The high drama of impeachment continues to unfold, and once that gets resolved, we can get back to politics, politics, politics.”
Donahue acknowledged that it is typically difficult to secure passage of meaningful legislation in Washington during a presidential election year.
Such meaningful legislation in 2020, the CEO added, should address itself to the “infrastructure deal we desperately need to modernize the physical platform of this economy.”
Donahue also pointed to “the reforms to our immigration system to ensure businesses have the workers they need,” as well as legislation that can “help address climate change through innovation and investment.”
The Chamber leader expressed optimism that Washington will tackle business-related legislation this year, despite the pressures of impeachment and the coming election, noting that in a hyper partisan 2019 and early 2020, Congress passed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, while also repealing the Health Insurance Tax and providing new retirement options for small businesses.
“This tells us there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are committed to doing the nation’s business,” said Donahue.
By Garry Boulard
The Texas Supreme Court has denied a petition for review pertaining to the long-running battle over building a new multipurpose arena in downtown El Paso.
Opponents of having that facility built in the neighborhood of Duranguito have taken that opposition to court, arguing that the ballot language for the Quality of Life bonds passed by voters in 2012 did not specifically mention that the proposed arena would be used for sporting events.
What is officially called the Multipurpose Cultural and Performing Arts Center was officially introduced in the fall of 2016 as a $180 million project that would require the demolition of a number of smaller houses and retail spaces in Duranguito.
City officials said that although a handful of other sites had been surveyed for the arena, the Duranguito neighborhood made the most sense economically and logistically.
But preservationists and community activists have argued for keeping intact what they have described as a historic neighborhood.
Although some structures in the area were subsequently demolished by the city, with nearly $12 million being spent by El Paso to acquire properties there, the legal battle eventually resulted in a halt to any further demolition.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said the State Supreme Court decision means that the city can soon launch an architectural review of the site, leading to the actual planning for the new arena.
Opponents of the project have said they will continue their struggle, and are currently reviewing their options in response to the Texas Supreme Court’s decision.
By Garry Boulard
A Memorandum of Understanding has been entered into between the University of New Mexico and Bernalillo County designed to lead to the construction of a new behavioral health triage center.
The capital investment memorandum, which also includes a plan for the selection of a site, has now won the approval of the Bernalillo County Commission.
The project, which has been in the talking and planning stage for more than a year, will be designed to assist those who are in need, but not at the stage of entering a full-service psychiatric hospital.
Altogether, UNM has committed itself to $20 million for the construction of the facility, a figure equal to the amount of the county’s planned investment.
According to the document approved by commission members, the agreement “authorizes the County Manager to award and execute agreements up to $20 million for the crisis triage services on the University of New Mexico Hospital footprint.”
Where exactly the new facility will be built has yet to be decided. But Bernalillo County Manager Julie Morgas Baca hailed the signing of the agreement as an important first step in the facility’s eventual construction, remarking, “We’re seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Two years ago, Bernalillo County agreed to set aside up to $30 million in revenue from a county gross receipts tax for the construction of the facility.
By Garry Boulard
Because of the increasing incidences of extreme weather and its sometime destructive impact on the nation’s infrastructure, a new report is emphasizing the need for a more coordinated resilience response.
The report, Planning for Infrastructure Resilience, published by the Chicago-based American Planning Association, notes that extreme weather is straining “aging facilities and systems,” adding that even new projects are now at risk if they are not “planned, designed, and constructed to account for climate-related stresses well into the future.”
Such planning is the offshoot of the critical infrastructure protection movement which, unlike previous disaster preparedness programs, does not specifically emphasize the safety and survival of people, but rather the critical infrastructure those people rely on.
In an APA press release on the study, it is noted that workable initiatives require a “good federal partnership that does not create greater risk and raises cost through faulty regulatory structures that fail to account for climate impacts.”
The report takes readers through the steps of extreme weather planning and preparation, with an emphasis on how “capital improvement plans, local regulations, and funding sources can help ensure that public infrastructure is resilient to flood and climate impacts for decades to come.”
Planning for Infrastructure Resilience is but the latest study in a rapidly growing field of scholarship looking at the vulnerability of the nation’s infrastructure to devastating weather events.
Virtually all of the studies have emphasized the need for public officials to coordinate with the separate entities that own and operate highways, railroads, and electrical systems, among other venues, to better plan for extreme weather infrastructure disaster.
By Garry Boulard
An agreement signed between the City of Phoenix and the Arizona Department of Transportation is being seen as the necessary precursor to the construction of a new 12 mile-long water pipeline.
The Phoenix Water Drought Pipeline Project is centered on a 66-inch diameter pipeline that will carry water from the Salt River Project to the rapidly growing northern end of Phoenix, a section of the city with more than 400,000 residents.
Long in the planning stage, the project, which will also includes the construction of a modern water treatment plant to be located at North 24th Street and Lincoln Street, is designed to provide a hedge against the city’s current reliance on water from the Colorado River.
Because of repeated ongoing drought conditions, less and less water from that source has been available in recent years, with some experts predicting a 7 percent supply reduction just this year alone.
The agreement between Phoenix and the Arizona DOT will allow for the pipeline’s construction alongside Arizona State Route 51, rather than on residential areas as had been earlier proposed.
Public input meetings on the project and its exact probable location are scheduled to be held next month.
The estimated $300 million pipeline will be built in three phases and could be completed by 2024.
By Garry Boulard
Plans have been announced for the construction of a 252-unit apartment complex in Santa Fe that will go up on a vacant site at 5132 Beckner Road on the southwest side of the city.
The Villa Sendero Apartments will include ten separate 3-story structures housing 114 one-bedroom units, 120 two-bedroom units, and 18 three-bedroom units.
According to city documents, the project will also include a club house, swimming pool, fitness center, common open space, dog park, children’s play area, and a walking trail.
Outdoor landscaping at the Beckner site will be comprised of evergreen trees, shrubs, and ornamental and native grass, with the walls made of stucco, bricks, and natural stones.
Although an exact construction schedule for the project has not been announced, full occupancy of the complex, also according to city documents, is expected to be achieved in early 2023.
By Garry Boulard
In an overwhelming 89 to 10 vote, the Senate has approved a sweeping new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
The USMCA will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, and is designed to increase both the amount of steel and aluminum traveling between the U.S. and Mexico, as well as dairy imports into Canada.
The Senate vote comes after the leaders of all three countries in late 2018 gave their signatures to the document.
The agreement is seen by many as a victory for the U.S. construction industry, notes the Associated General Contractors of America, because it will “help ensure that trade impacting the construction industry supply chain remains free, fair, and certain.”
In a letter from James Christianson, vice-president for government relations with the AGC, to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell before the historic vote, it was noted that the U.S. construction industry is “dependent on a consistent and predictable supply of construction materials."
Christianson went on to note that such materials are “used in a wide variety of construction projects,” and will prove critical should Congress also pass comprehensive infrastructure rebuilding legislation.
The agreement will also allow for the continued export of materials and products from the U.S. to both Mexico and Canada, markets that together make up 40 percent of all trade between the U.S. and the rest of the world, with a value of nearly $1.4 trillion.
In a statement, Thomas Donahue, chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, noted that the new trade agreement’s “updated rules on digital trade, non-tariff barriers, and services promise real benefits to American businesses and consumers.”
A report issued earlier last year by the Center for Strategic and International Studies has forecast that overall exports from the U.S. to both Mexico and Canada are expected to grow by up to 6.7 percent as a result of the agreement, with imports from those two countries slated to increase by nearly 5 percent.
Among the Senators who voted against the final version of the USMCA was Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, who said the agreement included “not one reference to the world’s climate change.”
Sanders continued: “Here you have a major trade agreement which in fact will make it easier for the large oil companies to destroy our planet.”
By Garry Boulard
Get stories like these right to your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter