New Mexico casino restaurant

Casino and restaurant in Sunland Park, New Mexico.

(The Center Square) – If the state moves quickly, hope remains for the New Mexico economy that's turned into a Dumpster fire during the COVID-19 pandemic, a state chamber of commercial official said.

“There is a lot of estimates that 20-30% at least of retail sector jobs are just never going to come back – and that’s service industry/retail,” Rob Black, CEO and president of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, told The Center Square.

White said overall, New Mexico isn’t doing much worse than other states, but it's recovery will be challenging.

Turning the state's economy around requires short-term and long-term planning, Black said.

“We need to do things quickly coming out of COVID just to keep businesses with the hope of being able to keep going,” Black told The Center Square.

Many jobs permanently lost are gone forever because business models shifted online, Black said.

“Part of what we have to do is quickly respond, retrain, help certify folks into different types of employment,” he said.

Unemployment remains above 7%, among the highest rates in the country. Approximately 20,000 jobs have disappeared in the leisure and hospitality sector alone. Employment in the oil and gas industry is down 26%.

The small business recovery loan program from June needs to be extended and revamped so that it’s easier to utilize, the loan amounts are larger, and more people can qualify, Black said.

“That will be a key piece, I think, that the state can do,” he said.

Black said the state also needs to offer some targeted relief for businesses, especially in the hospitality sector.

“There’s discussions around grants through a tax credit-type program for restaurants, bars – especially bars,” Black said.

The program could either provide cash for rent payments or provide incentives to landlords to forgive rent for a dollar for dollar tax credit, he said .

Another potential boost for bars would involve loosening liquor licenses, Black said. In the next special session, the legislature will look at allowing take-out purchases including cocktails.

Black said that getting the coronavirus under control, however, is really the first order of business.

“I think once we get a handle on the pandemic and the virus, it will bounce back faster than we anticipate,” Black told The Center Square. “I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand for folks to travel, for folks to go out and eat, to see each other and to socialize.”