The Brewhouse: Falstaff complex for sale; tenants want art center
By Vic Kolenc \ EL PASO TIMES
Posted: 07/04/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT
EL PASO -- Victor Trujillo just wanted to buy the building housing his 33-year-old produce company. He ended up owning one of El Paso's mostly forgotten industrial icons -- the former Falstaff brewery complex. Now he wants to sell it.
The property, dominated by a four-story building where beer was brewed for about 30 years, is tucked behind Trujillo's produce warehouse and two other produce companies in a low-income neighborhood off Alameda Avenue. The main building, a 75-year-old brick structure at 140 Stevens, is called The Brewhouse. All the brewery equipment was removed and the building converted to huge but crude loft-style apartments and artists' studios. This was done in the late 1970s by the previous owners. Several artists live in the building, which has 11 apartments.
Trujillo, owner of Victor's Produce, bought most of the former brewery property in April 2008. A small part of the complex, where a beer garden and the former home of brewery owner Harry Mitchell stand, was bought by El Paso auctioneer Walter Parker in November 2008. He is renovating that area, at Latta and Frutas, for a rental party complex.
Trujillo said the only reason he bought the brewery buildings was that they came as a package deal with the building housing his produce warehouse, which he wanted to buy for years. He said he paid less than $1 million for the brewery buildings and his produce warehouse at 3701 Alameda. He would not divulge the exact price. "I want to sell the building and my business. I'm getting ready to retire," Trujillo, 73, said last week as he worked behind a desk on the truck dock of his produce company. He is asking $2 million.
The brewery buildings he owns and his produce warehouse were appraised by the El Paso Central Appraisal District at just over $1 million -- $634,114 for the brewery property and $374,741 for the produce warehouse. Parker's beer garden patio with several buildings was appraised by the district at $150,000.
El Paso artists Abel Saucedo, 25, and Reginald Armstrong, 26, were excited to hear that The Brewhouse is for sale. They discovered the hidden treasure last year, and moved into a third-floor apartment in May 2009. They would like a new owner to breathe new life into the complex and turn it into a centralized art community, filled with studios. "This is a perfect space for an artist to live," said Saucedo, an El Paso native, as he stood between a yard-sized trampoline and pool table in the main living area of his industrial-sized apartment. "We can do any kind of art here." Huge oil paintings by Saucedo and Armstrong hang on a wall. Sunlight poured through two windows that stretch from just above the apartment's concrete floor to its about
Victor Trujillo owns the Brewhouse at 140 N. Stevens and Victor's Produce down the street at 3701 Alameda. Rudy Gutierrez/El Paso Times 20-foot-high concrete ceiling.
Many areas of the complex are showing age. Paint is peeling off exterior walls, and some windows are missing or boarded up. A pile of junk is stored in the front of what is labeled "The Bottle House." The interior hallways of the apartment building are stark, with steep metal stairways and a troublesome freight elevator.
While Saucedo and Armstrong would like to see upgrades, they also don't want the apartments to become unaffordable for struggling artists. Trujillo said rents range from $350 to $450 a month. Reiner Boehme, 59, has lived in the building's top-floor apartment since 2006 with his wife, Alice Mettey. She dabbles in metal sculpting and jewelry making. Boehme said the building needs more care and maintenance. But Boehme, a retired drummer who works in the El Paso school district mailroom, said he's concerned any major renovation would price him out of the building. "This building is almost 100 years old and sturdy. It will last a long time. I hope they don't knock it down," Boehme said.
Turning breweries into apartments and other uses is not unusual. For example, former Falstaff breweries in New Orleans and St. Louis have been converted into high-end apartment complexes. The former Tivoli Brewery in Denver was converted into a retail and student center as part of a university campus.
Bruce Berman, a photographer, has lived in The Brewhouse for 30 years. He said he sees a bright future for it because he expects the Texas Tech medical school-University Medical Center campus, a mile west of the building, to eventually spawn redevelopment in his neighborhood. The brewery complex's value would be enhanced if the train tracks next to it were removed, as has been talked about for years, he said. Trains rumble past the building more than 40 times a day, something that bothers Berman.
Berman said he has told himself a hundred times through the years that he would move, especially in recent years. He sees the building more suited to young, hungry artists than to an aging college teacher. But the unique apartment in a neighborhood within walking distance to the free Bridge of the Americas keeps him there. The location helps Berman focus on his Border Project, a decades-long chronicling of border life. "I find coming home to the 'hood is really good for me," said Berman, who commutes to Las Cruces to teach photojournalism at New Mexico State University. "This keeps me on the ground. I remember where I am." The building has also had an interesting cast of characters pass through it over the years, he said.
Mitchell to Falstaff
The brewery complex was built in the mid-1930s by Harry Mitchell, an Englishman who moved to El Paso in 1912. He was a hotel bartender and opened a restaurant in Juárez before he and his partner bought a brewery at the current site in 1933. They built the complex standing today on about 3 acres. It operated as Mitchell Brewing Co., until 1956, when the Falstaff Brewing Corp., bought it. The brewery closed in 1967. The Falstaff brand, a top beer brand for decades, lived on until 2005, when Pabst Brewing Co. stopped making it.
Three El Paso businessmen bought the brewery complex in the late 1970s and converted it into apartments. Warehouse space was leased, as it is still today. Several businesses also operated there. Now, the only business in the complex is a small furniture manufacturing shop, Great River Furniture, operated by carpenter Ismael Rodriguez. It's tucked into one of the complex's rear storage areas. He said he once had 10 workers and a bigger space, but the recession slowed sales to furniture stores in Dallas, Houston and other cities.
Richard Price, who operated several El Paso businesses, including a beer distributorship, is one of the three partners who bought the brewery property after it was vacant for about a decade. "It was priced right, and after we went through it and stumbled through all the trash and bird droppings, we saw a lot of potential," said Price, 85. "With very little renovation we could make apartments out of (part of) it. One of the floors had big holes -- 20 feet across -- where the fermenting tanks were. We had to fill those in. "It was an interesting building. We had a lot of fun, and we spent a lot of money" renovating it, Price said.
Yeah, Western Refining is doing a virtual downtown makeover all on its own. It takes three large historic buildings off the to-do list and opens the way for others to renovate the rest. Sun Metro is still drawing up a light rail plan for the future while they are already bringing in rapid bus transit. Across the river, Juarez is developing their own system and building a World Trade Center complex.
Last edited by desertpunk; July 8th, 2010 at 12:16 AM.
City agrees to $120M East Side Spaghetti Bowl
By Gustavo Reveles Acosta \ El Paso Times
Posted: 07/07/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT
EL PASO -- The city will be a partner in the $120 million construction of the East Side Spaghetti Bowl.
The City Council on Tuesday agreed to help build up to four ramps that will connect Loop 375 to Interstate 10. Overall, the city will commit $70 million to highway projects, the ramps being the biggest one. The remaining $50 million will come from the state and the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, a public entity that oversees regional transit projects. A private developer will build the ramps. It will be repaid by the state based on the number of vehicles that use the ramps.
City officials said they were happy to sign the agreement, especially because the state's involvement means the project will speed construction. Construction will start this year and take 18 months. "These ramps are a big project for the city and it's important that we get to them as soon as possible," said city Rep. Rachel Quintana, who represents the East Side.
This project is part of the region's $1 billion comprehensive mobility plan that calls for improvements on all major highways in the county. City representatives in the spring created a Transportation Reinvestment Zone to pay for El Paso's share of the project. The special taxing zones will not increase taxes. Rather, they will funnel revenue from property valuation increases into a fund to be used for transportation projects.
Council members have said the city will help pay part of the cost of building overpasses
on I-10 and Loop 375 on the far East Side and the West Side, along with the new Spaghetti Bowl. Terry Quezada of the city's engineering department said Tuesday's vote was practically the last step the city needs to take before construction starts. "We have one more item to bring to the council that is related to an aesthetics project, but other than that we are done with our part," she said.
The regional mobility authority in April picked Americas Gateway Builders, a conglomerate of different construction companies from throughout the region, to build at least the first three ramps. Officials said money for a fourth ramp could become available, and that four more ramps are part of the project design, although they are not funded.
Gustavo Reveles Acosta may be reached at greveles@ elpasotimes
Finalizing the MASTER PLAN: Foundation aims to create world-class medical center
By Vic Kolenc \ EL PASO TIMES
Posted: 07/11/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT
EL PASO -- About 140 acres have been identified as the footprint for the Medical Center of the Americas in Central El Paso. Now the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation wants to put the finishing touches on a 50-year master plan. The dream is to develop a world-class medical complex where health care and research would be done.
It is already anchored by the two-building Texas Tech University Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, which opened a year ago, and county-operated University Medical Center, which is in the midst of a $315 million renovation and expansion. This includes the addition of a $122 million children's hospital. The foundation will hold a four-day planning session at the end of July. That is when the public will be asked to help PlaceMakers, a planning firm, put together the master plan's final pieces.
The foundation spent about $275,000 for the initial master plan and expects to spend an additional $200,000 to complete it. "The first phase was the footprint, and how to organize it," said Emma Schwartz, the foundation president. It provided the conceptual vision of the area. The City Council approved it in October 2008 and added it to the city's comprehensive plan. Now more of the basic planning has to be done, Schwartz said. That includes zoning, architectural requirements and placement of walkways and streets. The final plan also must be taken to City Council for its consideration.
The plan calls for dividing the 140 acres into education, hospital, research, public health and "multi-use" districts. Those are to be linked by a strip of open, green space called "Central Park" and a central, public plaza with meeting spaces, stores and restaurants. "This is a long-term picture. It won't develop exactly like this. The master plan sets the vision, but has enough flexibility to deal with the realities of developing land," Schwartz said. About 60 acres of the area are occupied by the Texas Tech medical school, University Medical Center, a state psychiatric hospital, city Public Health Department offices and the county medical examiner's offices and morgue.
Developing the remaining 80 acres will take about 50 years, according to Lee Burkhart Liu, a California planning firm that wrote the initial master plan. The acreage is in the hands of different owners, including governmental entities and private businesses, and it will take years for properties to be acquired by campus tenants and private developers, Schwartz said.
The not-for-profit foundation will acquire properties when that makes sense and it can get financing to do it, Schwartz said. The foundation bought an office building at 440 Reynolds and is leasing it to Texas Tech, which needed more office space, she said. The 140 acres are to be filled by buildings tied to medical treatment and research, Schwartz said. The foundation will try to develop a biomedical research park, starting with 10 acres of vacant land the city owns along Durazno Avenue, just north of the Texas Tech medical school.
The foundation hopes areas around the medical center will become attractive to private developers, and they will build new retail and housing developments, Schwartz said. Private developers can also build inside the master-planned area, as long as projects fit master plan requirements, she said. Mark Estrada said he has received a lot of phone calls from people interested in 2 acres his family has for lease on Alameda, directly across the street from the two-building Texas Tech medical school. The land is not in the master-planned area.
Someone looking for a possible hotel site and another person looking for a gas station site are among those who have shown interest in the land, said Estrada, who operates Alameda Thrifty Pharmacy at 4900 Alameda. It was started by his now-retired father more than 50 years ago. Many people have wanted to buy the land, but Estrada said his family plans to keep ownership. "I don't anticipate any problems leasing the property; it's just a matter of time," Estrada said. "There's not a whole lot going on their (medical campus) yet.
Tragedy in Juárez spurs economy in El Paso
By Brandi Grissom / Texas Tribune
Posted: 07/14/2010 08:31:50 AM MDT
EL PASO - Three twentysomethings sway on stage, belting out a spirited, if off-key, version of Abba's "Dancing Queen." A packed crowd sings along, sipping beer and cocktails as the lyrics scroll by on TV screens across the bar.
It's a Thursday night during Holy Week, and this El Paso karaoke bar, Il Cantö, is one of several new nightclubs and restaurants hopping with patrons from both sides of the Rio Grande. El Paso never used to be so hip; the nightlife in Juárez, just across the border, had always outshined that of its comparatively plain sister city. But as the savage drug war rages on there, both the fun and the business have fled - following the customers. Juarenses don't go out at night. Tourists don't come at all.
With the streets empty and their cash registers quiet, many restaurant, nightclub and small-business owners have moved to El Paso, bringing the sleepy city a vibrant new culture and an economic boost. In a tragic irony, a measure of El Paso's recent fortune results directly from the suffering of its sister city.
The economic jolt from Juárez refugees comes as El Paso reaps the payoff from years of planning and pleading for recognition. Some 24,000 new soldiers are moving to Fort Bliss, and a massive new medical complex is sprouting, along with billions in infrastructure to accommodate the unprecedented growth. "While the rest of the country is calling this the 'Great Recession,' we're calling it the 'recession that's making us great,'" says El Paso Mayor John Cook.
But experts warn that El Paso leaders rely on Juárez's demise at their own peril. Ultimately, as Juárez goes, so goes El Paso, they say. If the Mexican city's expansive maquila industry collapses, it could bury a significant portion of El Paso's newfound prosperity. "El Paso had better be looking at a potential resolution of the problems in Juárez," says Tony Payan, a political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, "because El Paso is dependent on Juárez - not the other way around."
Since drug violence exploded in Juárez in 2008, at least 5,400 people have been killed in the city of 1.3 million, according to the most recent data available from the Chihuahua state attorney general's office in Mexico. It's nearly impossible to precisely count how many Juarenses have fled, or to know exactly why, because the bloodshed in Juárez has reached a crescendo almost simultaneously with the onset of a worldwide recession.
Estimates of the Juárez exodus range from about 100,000 to nearly a half-million. Outgoing Juárez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz says that as many as 20,000 homes in his city have been abandoned.
In the once-bustling Pronaf district, "se vende" (for sale) signs hang from the eaves of shuttered boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs. The same for-sale signs hang from the barred windows of ritzy estates in the upscale Campestre neighborhood. Reyes Ferriz estimates that about 100,000 people have left Juárez. The ailing economy, he says, has driven away more of them than the slaughter. "I think when they get the opportunity to work, they'll probably be back," he says. Other estimates, from UTEP's Payan and a study from the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez, put the exodus from Juárez at closer to 500,000 people - nearly 40 percent of the population.
Before the daily executions, Juárez was perhaps best known for its massive maquila industry. Factories that produce parts for American products ranging from televisions to cars to computers employ thousands of workers from both sides of the border. About 100,000 workers per year once migrated from southern parts of Mexico to Juárez for factory work, Reyes Ferriz says. Nearly two-thirds of Juárez residents, he says, were born someplace else. But when the international economy soured, so did the maquilas. In a city that once boasted almost no unemployment, Reyes Ferriz says, about 20 percent of Juarenses are out of work.
While some have fled north to seek safety and prosperity in America, many more have gone back to their homes in southern Mexico, Reyes Ferriz says. There, they can find support from the families they left behind.
Garden of eating
Before the bloodletting, food and entertainment provided another engine for the Juárez economy, in places frequented by Americans, including many El Pasoans - who considered Juárez just another neighborhood in their binational community. Now, the faces that remain in the Mercado and Pronaf districts are primarily those of Juarenses. And they can be seen only in daylight.
But at 9 o'clock on a Thursday night in El Paso's Union Plaza, John Geske's new restaurant, The Garden, teems with young people sipping mojitos and margaritas and sharing colorful sushi rolls. The band plays a Sade cover as men in designer jeans and women in shiny tops tap out texts on smartphones. "We've gained so much momentum," Geske says, setting aside his beer to chat. Gone are the days when Geske, like so many El Pasoans, partied in Juárez. "It's like the wild, wild west over there," he says.
That's been good for business here. Saturdays at The Garden are slammed, as is lunch every day. Even with the increased traffic, though, Geske says restaurants and clubs in El Paso will never be able to replicate the nightlife in Juárez. Part of the allure was the service, bred from a system in which workers made only tips. Staff rushed to open doors and plop fresh drinks in front of customers before they had to ask, a luxury El Paso business owners could never afford to recreate.
But that hasn't slowed the blossoming of El Paso's nightlife. Upscale clubs and restaurants like Maria Chuchena, Aroma and Il Cantö, have moved from Juárez to El Paso. David Maese and his business partner closed their karaoke bar in Juárez and reopened Il Cantö near the UTEP campus last fall. The club plays almost exclusively Mexican music - catering to the many Juarenses who now come to El Paso to party because it's too scary to venture out at night at home. A few blocks away on Mesa Street is Aroma Restaurant, where Luis Martinez welcomes guests in the dark, candle-lit dining room. "Here in El Paso, especially for the restaurant business, it's good lately," he says. "Any kind of business in Juárez is difficult to operate now."
The economic boost transcends the party scene, says Richard Dayoub, CEO of the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce. He estimates that about 30,000 Juarenses have moved here. "They're lawyers, accountants; they're business owners who run their businesses by computer, by telephone, or both, and manage their operations from here for safety reasons," Dayoub says.
Business owners can't go to work in Juárez without running the risk of getting kidnapped or shot. And it's not just the cartels. A secondary criminal element has sprouted in the chaos, kidnapping and carjacking with impunity while Mexican military and police are tied up fighting (or cooperating with) the cartels. "That has become more than a cottage industry," he says. "We're talking about a lot of people and a lot of money."
Cindy Ramos-Davidson, CEO of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says she's seen about a 40-percent increase in clients from all over Mexico. "We're seeing a lot of family-owned companies that want to [move to the U.S.] for their families," she says.
Ramos-Davidson estimates she's seen about 400 new small businesses, each bringing about five to 10 job opportunities, though its unclear whether the jobs are permanent. Many Mexican business owners, she says, are keeping their shops south of the river in hopes of returning when security and the economy there improve. "It's not like El Paso is going to be dependent on Mexican business," she says.
Meanwhile, El Paso enjoys an unprecedented growth spurt for reasons having nothing to do with the troubles to the south. Some 24,000 new soldiers, along with their families, are being stationed at the Army's Fort Bliss. The base was among the biggest winners in the nation after the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission's decision to rearrange military forces around the world. The new troops will boost the base's economic impact on El Paso from $1.5 billion per year to more than $5 billion.
Another $1.5 billion in economic impact, and some 500 new jobs, are expected from the new four-year medical school, the Texas Tech University Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, where the first class of doctors started school last fall. The city won state investment for the project in 2007 after nearly a decade of pressuring state lawmakers.
Because of its relatively low unemployment and solid housing market, El Paso was ranked the 11th most recession-resilient city in America by the Brookings Institute last month. The new troops and their families, along with the Juárez refugees, Dayoub says, filled apartments to a 98-percent occupancy rate, and the city needs some 6,000 units to accommodate new residents. "Sadly, it's been good for El Paso at the expense of Mexico, and I mean that sincerely. I think it's tragic," Dayoub says. "It's destroying their economy, and, however inadvertent, however unintended, there's a positive benefit to El Paso's economy."
That benefit is hard to quantify, but most agree it represents a sizeable factor in a much larger expansion. "It's temporary, it's partial - and it's rather small compared to how El Paso would profit if Juárez ever recovered," says UTEP's Tony Payan. He worries that the violence will lead to a collapse of the maquilas in Juárez. The city has 300 manufacturing facilities that make parts and products, primarily for U.S. companies.
Nearly a quarter of all trade between the U.S. and Mexico crosses through the El Paso/Juárez border ports, according to the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation. The maquilas employed more than 168,000 workers from both sides of the border in 2006. Since then, though, the facilities have laid off some 40,000 to 60,000 workers. "When that industry collapses, then El Paso is dragged down," Payan says.
But that's not likely to happen, says Alan Russell, president and CEO of Tecma Group, which has 4,000 employees in 20 maquilas in four Mexican cities, including Juárez. Job losses at the facilities, he says, have nothing to do with the Mexican drug war and everything to do with the U.S. economic downturn. Nearly one-third of the maquilas in Juárez produce parts for the U.S. automotive industry. "There's an old saying that when the U.S. gets a cold, Mexico gets the flu," Russell says. "But the U.S. got worse than a cold, so the economic impact in Mexico has just been horrific."
Maquila employees have not been the targets of cartel violence, Russell says. Unlike many small business owners, maquila owners don't live in Juárez, so they can't be easily followed and extorted. It helps, too, that the companies are primarily American-owned, making criminals wary of potential repercussions. What's more, the factories are restoring some of their workforce, now that the U.S. economy has started to recover.
Russell hopes an economic upturn in Juárez will eventually help reduce the bloodshed. If more people have jobs and steady income, Russell says, fewer will turn to the drug trade. When that happens, Juarenses will return home, and they'll bring back with them that raucous nightlife, those famous restaurants and the cultural and economic benefits that have migrated across the border to El Paso. "Everything goes in cycles," he says.
This cycle, though, may take some time to run its course, says UTEP's Payan. As long as the cartels battle one another and the government to preserve their drug profits, and as long as the Mexican government proves powerless to stop them, the bloodshed will continue. "The city will have to be rebuilt from the ground up," he says, "and hopefully Juarenses have courage to rebuild it.
Do you have anything on the transit oriented urban village the city is planning?
Are you thinking of the proposal for the ASARCO site? That one is still up in the air. Several different ideas have to be sorted out and a final decision made by the city. The transit-oriented village would require lots of environmental remediation because of lead at that brownfield so it's not assured of being the winning proposal...
El Paso per capita income increases as nation sees decrease
By Vic Kolenc / El Paso Times
Posted: 08/23/2010 11:24:53 AM MDT
EL PASO - El Paso's per capita income increased 2 percent last year, while the nation as a whole saw a 2.8 percent decrease, according to a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Even with the increase, El Paso's per capita income, $28,638 in 2009, remained in the bottom 25 in a ranking of 366 metro areas. El Paso ranked No. 342. Per capita income is total personal income of an area divided by population.
El Paso's total personal income - residents' income from all sources - increased 3.8 percent to $21.5 billion last year. The El Paso area was one of 134 metro areas with an increase. Nationwide, personal income declined 1.8 percent in 2009
The Milken Institute, an independent think tank, has ranked El Paso ninth of the 200 largest U.S. metro areas for growth in jobs and wages, along with technology performance.
The institute found that jobs in El Paso grew 2.5 percentage points faster than the national average. On the downside, El Paso's unemployment rate of 10.2 percent was higher than the national rate of 9.5 percent.
Another study released this week by a national business news site found that El Paso had experienced a faster income growth than any other metropolitan area in the United States. But the city still ranked 99th of the 100 largest U.S. metro areas because its per-capita income was $28,638 a year.
The Milken Institute found that construction from the expansion at Fort Bliss was the main economic driver in El Paso, with the post growing to 25,000 soldiers. The portion of federal jobs in El Paso has grown from about 2 percent to about 8 percent since 2004.
Another industry fueling El Paso's economy is the maquiladora industry -- especially in electronics, where operations have picked up again in Juárez. About 18 percent of the maquilas in Juárez are electronics plants, said the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corp. Auto-related demand and production have also recovered somewhat in Juárez despite the drug-cartel violence there.
The Milken Institute also found a 47 percent increase in trade in May compared with May 2009. Truck crossings along the border had gone up 22.7 percent, according to the economic development corporation.
Texas metro areas dominated the rankings of best-performing cities by the Milken Institute. Five of the top 10 positions were in Texas. They were Fort Hood, Austin, McAllen, El Paso and Houston.
Growing power: El Paso's economic performance makes lists
By Vic Kolenc \ El Paso Times
After years of being ranked toward the bottom of economic vitality lists, the Sun City has landed toward the top of several recent economic barometers.
*The Milken Institute, a California think tank, ranked El Paso's economy as the ninth-best-performing economy among 200 metro areas in its latest Best-Performing Cities Index, released this month.
*The Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank, has ranked El Paso as one of the 20 strongest metro economies in the nation since it began tracking metro economies in June 2009.
*Portfolio.com, a national business news site, this month ranked El Paso as having the strongest per-capita income growth in the past 25 years among the nation's 100 largest metro areas.
So do these rankings mean El Paso has become an economic powerhouse? Or did El Paso just hold its own during the Great Recession while the economies in many other cities tumbled?
"El Paso has been more recession-proof" than many other places, but the fact that it's ninth on the Best-Performing Cities Index doesn't mean it has as powerful or as rich an economy as bigger metro areas, such as New York and Washington, D.C., said Kevin Klowden, managing economist at the Milken Institute and co-author of the Best-Performing Cities study. Fort Bliss expansion and trade with Mexico, which came out of the recession better than the United States despite the chaos in that country, helped the El Paso economy during the recession, Klowden said.
William "Bill" Gilmer, an economist and vice president in charge of the El Paso branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said the spending for construction at Fort Bliss, UTEP and the Texas Tech medical center was "kind of like our own stimulus spending bill" and set El Paso's economy apart from much of the rest of the nation during the recession. "We have performed better recently, but there's not a fundamental change in the (El Paso) economy," Gilmer said. "El Paso is still tied to manufacturing, which is still one of the most cyclical pieces of the U.S. economy. "The next time there is a recession, we probably won't be that lucky," Gilmer said.
Howard Wial, an economist at the Brookings Institution, said the fact that El Paso had no housing boom or bust like many other metro areas, and isn't tied to the auto industry as is the Midwest are also reasons it's topping economic performance lists. Brookings' quarterly Metro Monitor reports gauge how badly places were hit by the recession and how well they have recovered, Wial said. It doesn't gauge income growth or whether an area is poor or rich, he noted.
Mike Santamaria, vice president of Mountain Vista Builders, an El Paso homebuilder, said El Paso builders didn't have the business seen in Phoenix and Florida when those areas were booming, but "we didn't come down as far either." "Most (El Paso) builders felt the recession. But compared to other places, we did much better," Santamaria said.
Tom Fullerton, an economics professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, said that the recent rankings are good news, but that they don't mean the local economy has leapfrogged the national economy. "In fact, household incomes in El Paso continue to lag those of the rest of the country by a fairly wide margin and much more work needs to be done in order to reduce that gap," he said.
That's driven home by Portfolio.com's ranking. While El Paso's per-capita income grew 212 percent in the last 25 years, according to its analysis of federal data, El Paso's per capita income of $28,638 in 2009 ranked 99th lowest among the nation's 100 largest metro areas.
The Milken Institute index ranks cities based on short-term, and long-term job and wage growth, and on high-tech output. El Paso didn't rank in the top 10 in any individual category. It's best showing was job growth from 2008 to 2009 -- 2.3 percent above the national average for that period. That was 17th best in the nation. El Paso is below the national average in the amount of high-tech industries located here, but high-tech output has been growing, Klowden said. El Paso's high-tech output grew 13.5 percent more than the national average during 2004-2009, the Milken study found.
High tech can help an area grow, but in the end, it's about job growth, Klowden said. "If you're looking to get hired, it's easier to do that in a city that is doing well. But just because the economy is doing well, doesn't mean it will have a job you're looking for," Klowden noted. Someone looking for a job in finance, for example, may want to head to New York because that's a financial center, he said.
In the first Milken Institute study in 2002, El Paso ranked 136th, and then 174th in 2003. It wasn't until 2008, when the nation was in the grips of the Great Recession, that El Paso climbed to 37th. It ranked 14th last year.
Bob Cook, president of the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corp., or REDCo, El Paso's industrial recruiter, said the high rankings are a recruitment tool. "They help tell our story," Cook said. They're an "indication that El Paso is a great place to do business."
But the rankings don't bring calls from companies.
"In the 25 years I've been in economic development, I never remember one of these studies generating inquiries from companies," Cook said. But, he added,when data from the studies are shown to companies, the reactions are usually positive.
Since there is so much going on in the El Paso area how's it looking as far as population growth and future projections?
Population growth is accelerating due to the infusion of 25,000 Army soldiers plus their families into Ft. Bliss. Additionally, there has been a huge migration to El Paso from troubled CD Juarez. The city could easily hit 750,000 by 2020.