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Places: Las Vegas, New Mexico

In our work with economic development with smaller communities, we’ve found there are numerous opportunities awaiting corporations, industrial and manufacturing companies and other private sector ventures across the United States. One great opportunity we’ve discovered lies out west in Las Vegas.

Not to be confused with the other, far younger, larger, Las Vegas, Nevada with its world famous resort corridor, Las Vegas, New Mexico has its own realm of world qualities. This Las Vegas possesses an affordable labor force that’s willing to work, affordable housing and access to coast-to-coast freight and passenger rail service; it lies along US Interstate 25 for immediate national access to motor freight service. Las Vegas has two high schools, a local community college and state supported university – and a history steeped in early American Spanish architecture, food and Hispanic culture.

Via automobile, Las Vegas is located one hour east of Santa Fe, the state’s capitol and two hours northeast of Albuquerque where the state’s largest public airport is located.

Place for Las Vegas, New Mexico is 35.60 N. X 105.22 W. At elevation 6480 ft. above sea level, the community has an annual average temperature of 49.85 degrees F. and average precipitation of 18 inches. Along with a moderate climate, there is ample access to water for serving a wide range of operational needs for manufacturers and businesses. Winter temperatures are lowest in January with daytime temps in the high 40’s while July is the warmest month with daytime highs in the 80’s.

Demographic data indicates Las Vegas, New Mexico has a stable year around population of approximately 13,500 residents. More than 76 percent of residents are Hispanic Americans; Caucasians make up the second largest demographic: 18 percent. The African America population is just under 3 percent of residents and the Asian population is just above 1 percent. Much of the local population is bilingual. Of equal interest with the community’s demographic distribution, is only a few more than 400 of today’s residents are foreign born – so the diversity is mostly American.

Within the community, 76 percent of its residents have finished high school; almost 19 percent possess bachelor’s degrees while nearly 9 percent have graduate degrees. Of interest to business, 50 percent of the population is single and less than 15 percent of households are headed by a divorced parent – or a grandparent, which is a strong indicator of household stability.

Founded in 1835 by settlers receiving a land grant from the Mexican government, this small New Mexico settlement became a resting and watering hole for cattle and pioneers along the Old Santa Fe Trail. By the summer of 1879 the settlement became a rail stop for passengers, freight and cattle. Daily train service to Las Vegas still operates today.

In its early days, access to passengers, freight and cattle meant MONEY; and the scent of money attracted drifters, card sharks, grafters, rustlers and numerous other unsavory hombres including Billy the Kid. So if you have any interests in learning about the settlement of the west or America’s historic cultural connectivity to our neighbors beyond the Rio Grande River, this Las Vegas is a great Place for lessons.

As the seat of San Miguel County, county, state and federal services provide a foundation for local economics. This Las Vegas is home to Highlands University. Highlands is a public supported four-year-school offering multiple degree programs that date back to 1893. Highlands University has 2300 students in classes that are less than 20; 62 percent of the student population today are women.

Having been selected as one of the state’s most beautiful communities, Las Vegas continues to be a treasure trough of living American history and history of the “old west." Planned and designed around classical characteristics of Spanish and Mexican communities where the main Plaza downtown functions as the center of Place and Life for its citizens, businesses, government and religion, Las Vegas has retained much of downtown’s original character and history.

Over time and through great community pride residents have restored and placed more than 900 buildings on the US Secretary of Interiors National Registry of Historic Places. One striking example of pride is the Plaza Hotel, built in 1881. Completely restored, the Plaza Hotel exemplifies the linkages between early life in the New Mexico Territory of the United States and the influences Las Vegas inherited from classical Mexico and Spain.

Music, art and food are still central to the community’s historic culture. Seasonal festivals attract locals as well as visitors to the various events sponsored by the community. Servicing the needs of those traveling US I 25 and livestock ranching are the community’s two principal economic drivers; however, there are currently numerous other opportunities abound for the community’s future.

Two thoughts come to mind immediately. Manufacturers of small items that need a trained workforce – where receiving materials, shipping and distribution can be accommodated by motor freight or rail - are a perfect fit for this Las Vegas.

A second opportunity uses the city’s history and culture to build a national brand for marketing and sales of indigenous native foods and by partnering with nearby ranchers to build upon the values of range-fed meats. With the Martinez and Sons Meat Processing Company already operating in Las Vegas, in addition to traditional livestock meats and cuts, specialty cuts used in preparing traditional, historic early-west New Mexico recipes can be prepared and readied for frozen shipment via rail or truck transport to anywhere in the country. Through a partnership, local livestock production could expand to include other meats, cuts and products for the marketplace.

Likewise, historically–based New Mexico vegetable specialties including sweet corn and pozole corn, chilies, related cooking spices, tortillas, beans, squash, tomatillos and melons keep increasing in popularity and sales nationwide. With a successful brand and marketing program, local cottage industries structured as an urban agriculture collective can contract with residents to grow vegetables and fruits, herbs and spices that are also be distributed and sold to regional and national distributors.

If soils allow, the extension service can assist with growing wine grapes and making wine as an additional part of a high-quality specialty food production brand and economy for Las Vegas.

While “What happens in Vegas – stays in Vegas,” what happens in its older sister is just as important – and can be just as profitable – while making the community more sustainable and recognized!

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