Holloman Air Force Base, Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center and Alamogordo Public Schools are among the largest employers in Otero County.
That means Otero County- also perched to see a surge in the medical and recreational cannabis industry – has a varied job market.
The most recent unemployment data showed Otero County had a 4.8% unemployment rate, lower than the statewide percentage of 5.2%, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
The New Mexico unemployment rate peaked at 13.4% in July 2020 as the state grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic and mandated public health orders which impacted local, regional and state economies.
Regulations affecting businesses in New Mexico were scaled back in 2021, allowing businesses to reopen. The economic recovery, however, was slow officials said as employees stayed home leaving countless jobs in the region unfilled.
Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center was challenged by a need for medical staff and fatigue among its current employees.
Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Lillie Lewis said said that was eased somewhat with the presence of crisis health nurses which softened nurse turnover.
“We started receiving crisis nurses in November,” Lewis said. “That has been a help but that’s just one area of nursing. Nursing is one part of running an organization that is this large.”
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She said a lack of support staff — unit secretaries, food services, patient registration, housekeeping, nursing assistants and clerical staff — increased the challenge.
“I think there were about 12 to13 people in orientation on Monday (Jan. 3) who were new hires,” Lewis said. “We’re constantly working on filling other positions. It’s kind of hard to find the applicants that we’re looking for.”
Lewis said a nursing shortage, pre-pandemic, was exasperated by long hours, safety concerns and health mandates including required vaccinations by the State of New Mexico.
At Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center, there was a decrease in COVID-19 cases at the hospital since mid-December, Lewis said.
As of Jan. 7, there have been 9,535 positive COVID-19 cases in Otero County, 148 deaths were attributed to COVID-19. Over 8,000 were reported recovered from the virus since data collection began in March 2020, according to the New Mexico Department of H
Statewide, New Mexico has had 369,113 positive COVID-19 cases reported with 5,983 deaths attributed to COVID-19. There were 315,606 reported COVID-19 recoveries since March 2020, as of Jan. 7 according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
Ultra Health is a New Mexico-based medical cannabis manufacturer with facilities and 30 dispensaries across New Mexico including a dispensary and a hemp farm in Tularosa.
“We were able to understand each different labor market and as compared to the urban markets. We’ve found that a lot of employees in the Alamogordo area are very motivated, very energized to work especially when considering a career in cannabis,” Ultra Health spokeswoman Marissa Novel said.
“Cannabis can be a different type of opportunity for the right person. It can be more rewarding work. It can also be potential for upward mobility within an organization to management positions.”
Entering the legal cannabis industry is easier now, Novel said, because of the industry’s novelty. Even if an applicant does not have any or very much horticulture or agriculture experience, the applicant can do well in the legal cannabis industry, Novel said.
“We’ve had great success in Alamogordo especially considering our starting wage, organizationally, now is $15 an hour,” Novel said. “We committed to starting our wage at $15 an hour on the first of the year which is 30% higher than the New Mexico minimum wage. We believe that is going to attract dedicated applicants.”
New Mexico began the second part of phasing-in a $15 per hour minimum wage on Jan. 1 by increasing wages to $11.50 per hour, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
Ultra Health, poised to become one of the largest employers in Otero County by opening a facility on La Velle Road which would employ 200 to 300 people within its first year of operations, Ultra Health CEO Duke Rodriguez said in August 2021 during a tour of the facility.
More:Ultra Health cannabis company to move into former Western Baking facility in Otero County
Holloman Air Force Base
About 20 miles south of Alamogordo is Holloman Air Force Base.
Holloman Air Force Base has openings for both appropriated funded and non-appropriated funded positions. Appropriated funded positions are funded by Congressional allocations. Non-appropriated fund positions are paid based on the amount of money generated by the business where they are working.
“We’re still hiring people, but we have areas where we have a harder area to fill in the non-appropriated fund positions,” Holloman Air Force Base Civilian Personnel Flight Chief Elva Chavez said. “Some of the child development positions, housekeeping positions, even the cooks. Those are the types of positions that we are having the hardest time filling.”
More:Getting your foot in the door: Holloman Air Force Base to host job fair Aug. 24
Chavez said filling jobs was slow but steady, and recruitment continued.
Alamogordo Public Schools
Alamogordo Public Schools made offers to 31 potential employees following a job fair held before winter break.
“There may be a ‘great resignation’ going on, but we’re kind of an anomaly here,” Alamogordo Public Schools Superintendent Kenneth Moore said. “I’m thinking that people are leaving a location where they are not feeling appreciated or are overburdened and going to places that they hear about that do appreciate their employees.”
Moore said employees may be attracted to Alamogordo Public Schools because the education sector offers job security.
“We’re doing everything we can to support our teachers and all of our employees,” Moore said.
Alamogordo Public Schools utilized alternative teaching license as a tool for staffing. The alternative teaching licensure program through the New Mexico Public Education Department allows those who have a degree “in a non-traditional teaching field and wishing to ‘fast-track’ into teaching,” according to the New Mexico Public Education Department.
Nicole Maxwell can be contacted by email at email@example.com, by phone at 575-415-6605 or on Twitter at @nicmaxreporter.