The American economy is improving, said U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, and small businesses and congressional incentives are helping. Wilson came to Valencia County Tuesday, toured a Belen business and spoke to the Los Lunas Rotary Club.

At the Sud-Chemie plant in Rio Communities, Wilson said she was glad to see “a major employer offering good pay, good benefits resulting in a stable workforce.”

The company makes packaging products that protect from moisture, particle, ultraviolet and other forms of contamination.

The company employs about 160 people in its Rio Communities plant and includes 70 sites around the world. Wilson said she had wanted to visit the plant after meeting a representative months ago.

“I’m concerned about jobs and the economy. I learn from people doing the job,” she said.

Wilson was optimistic and upbeat as she talked about America’s recovery after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Wilson mentioned a bill she voted for, the Economic Security Act, to create incentives for business owners to invest in equipment. One provision, called “accelerated depreciation,” allows a business owner to deduct a greater portion of the cost of the depreciable property in the first years after purchase, she said.

The bill helps small businesses looking at buying equipment, doing construction or expanding their computer setup so they can grow the business and create jobs, according to a press release from Wilson’s office.

Also, unemployment insurance will be extended an additional 13 weeks for those who have exhausted their benefits, and health care coverage will be expanded, she said.

The economy took a dive after the Sept. 11 attacks, she said, “but we’re turning things around.”

“Most jobs are created by small businesses. In fact, 97 percent of all jobs are created by small business,” Wilson said.

In addition, there has been a growth in businesses owned by women and minorities in New Mexico, she said.

Sept. 11 “changed our priorities,” Wilson said. Before, “the attitude was not to dip into the Social Security surplus and less government.”

Since Sept. 11, “we’ve changed our priorities to protecting Americans here at home and abroad.”

“We lost over one million jobs since Sept. 11,” she said. “It knocked us out.”

The tourism industry suffered and “consumer confidence plummeted.”

The attacks occurred a few months before the Christmas season, so retail sales were down during what is traditionally the year’s busiest season.

“They hit us hard and knocked us down, but there have been changes in the last few months,” Wilson told the Rotarians.

“There has been growth in the first quarter of the year, and retail sales have gained,” Wilson reported. “Things are starting to come back.”

And “unemployment claims are the lowest level of increase, and unemployment dropped to 5.5 percent, which was not expected and is a good sign. … Productivity is increasing. We’re moving forward. There has been an extraordinary growth in productivity, ” she continued.

However, “there still is an attitude of caution, we’re not sure how strong the recovery will be,” she said. “It will take another month to know.”

Wilson said she met with businessmen and women in Albuquerque who said they will be adding employees. Six months ago, they were not planning these expansions, she said. “We’re starting to see good things and a stable workforce.”

Sandia Labs and Los Alamos National Labs both say they will be hiring. “Federal employment remains stable.”

Wilson also touched on other subjects when she spoke to the Rotary Club.

The war against terrorism has seen successes in Afghanistan, she said, but “it will be a long drawn out thing,” as the terrorists continue to train thousands of people.

“We must root ’em out with military and intelligence and provide the finances to destroy them. We have the resolve to do it, to root ’em out and destroy ’em.”

A member of the audience expressed concern that there are not enough background checks of immigrants.

“I’m a second-generation American. My family came here because there was no hope where they were,” Wilson said.

Stricter immigration policies may not be the answer to finding potential terrorists, she said.

“Information is our best defense against terrorism, sharing information among agencies will improve” the effort to stop terrorists here, she said. Other congressional measures also have been proposed to find the terrorists here.

“We must be engaged in the world,” she said, and continue to support immigration “that favors family ties.”

She added that she was not sure that background checks on the terrorists would protect us against terrorism.

Wilson also talked about other issues:

  • She spoke favorably about an Education Reform Bill, the “No Child Left Behind Act, which involves more control and authority at the local level and makes sure every kid can read by the third grade.”

In Albuquerque, one-third of the students do not graduate from high school, she said. “Thirty two percent of Hispanic kids do not graduate.” Years ago, a degree was not so vital to employment.

But now, “jobs are not there without a degree. Technical training is the only way to prepare for the 21st century. Doors will open if you stick it out and get a good education,” she said.

  • The U.S. military needs more modern equipment, “but it is the best military in the world,” she said.
  • “Things are close to the boiling point between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” she said, in answer to a question. She visited the area in August.

“We must do what we can to stop the violence. But people there have to come to a solution. I’m not optimistic in the short term” for a solution.

  • She favors measures to encourage teachers and doctors to stay in New Mexico. Two bills are now pending in Congress on Medicare reform that would affect the poorer rural states, such as New Mexico. Included must be a provision addressing the high cost of prescription drugs, she said.
What’s your Reaction?
Katherine Saltzstein