Study: Half of New Mexico job training grants fall short

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Taxpayer-funded incentives aimed at expanding private employment and investments in New Mexico sometimes create fewer high-quality jobs than projected, and money is not consistently clawed back for unfulfilled promises, state program analysts announced Monday.

The report from the budget and accountability office of the Legislature gauges the effectiveness of state incentives that underwrite job training, as well as infrastructure investments for businesses that expand locally or relocate to New Mexico.

State lawmakers have approved about $350 million in funding to the two incentive programs since 2016. Businesses have not grown as much as projected for about half of the job-training grants and one-third of the infrastructure grants, the evaluation says.

New Mexico has robust employment associated with energy, tourism and film, but its economy also is among the most distressed in the nation, with a rate of poverty that exceeds all but a handful of states.

The new study notes that the state Economic Development Department has improved accountability somewhat by switching from up-front grant payments to a series of payments as business employment and expansion goals are met.

But the agency also declined or did not attempt to reclaim more than $4 million in incentives from companies that failed to meet obligations.

Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes says that base wages have increased under the incentives programs in recent years, and that dozens of companies are responding to voluntary requests for more detailed reporting on wages, job growth and grant expenditures.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was elected last week to a second term even amid criticism from Republicans about her handling of the economy.

New Mexico’s job-training grants can reimburse a company for up to 1,040 hours of wages paid to a new hire for as long as six months.

That program is not available to several industries, including retail sales, construction, farming, mining, health care, casinos and tourism.