The population in Hobbs has narrowly crossed a line.
That line is a magic population line of 50,000 people, and preliminary data released by the U.S. Census Bureau shows growth in Hobbs of about 19.5 percent over the last decade.
The Hobbs Census County Division (CCD) reportedly comes in at 51,736 for the 2020 Census, compared to 43,305 in 2010, according to data compiled from the U.S. Census.
CCDs are areas delineated by the Census Bureau in cooperation with state, tribal, and local officials for statistical purposes and have no legal function. CCD boundaries usually follow visible features and usually coincide with Census tract boundaries. In Hobbs case, the CCD extends beyond the city’s limits closely mirroring Hobbs Municipal Schools’ boundaries.
For Lea County, the numbers overall also look promising for growth with the total county population reported as 74,445 in 2020, up about 15 percent from 64,727 in 2010.
This growth makes Lea and Eddy Counties in southeast New Mexico one of the fastest growing areas in New Mexico by percentage of growth, with growth out-pacing the state’s largest population center of Bernalillo County, which saw minimal growth from 662,564 to 676,444 people, or about 2.1 percent. Bernalillo’s growth is less that the state-wide average growth of 2.8 percent.
The growth also firmly places Hobbs, with population within city limits of 40,500, in the most populous cities in the state at No. 7 on the list — just ahead of Clovis, and barely behind Farmington and Roswell.
But just what does the growth in population mean for Hobbs and the rest of Lea County?
“It indicates that Hobbs is continuing to become a hub for business, industry, healthcare, and our community. I think the things we’re doing relative to our educational programs, quality of life amenities, and economic development efforts are starting to show the fruits of our labor,” Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb told the News-Sun.
“The percentage growth is very good,” said Economic Development Corporation of Lea County Chair Tres Hicks. “I believe (it shows) Hobbs and Lea County have topped the hill so to speak, in becoming a well-rounded community that can build on itself now. It’s an indicator that is happening.”
“I think we’re in a very positive position,” said Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, who represents N.M. Senate District 42. “We need to say thank you to the people who did such a great job in collecting the Census data locally. … I think it means southeast New Mexico is going to be well represented in the state Legislature.”
What new opportunities exist for achieving the magical 50,000 people in the Hobbs CCD?
“The 50,000 threshold is important, especially to a lot of the retailers and big-box retailers a lot of our residents are wanting in terms of the Sam’s Clubs, Costcos, Targets, Kohl’s, and a whole group. They model making a decision on investing in a community on some of those population demographics,” said Cobb.
“It’s important from the perspective of getting business to look at (your community),” said Hicks. “Some businesses have that 50,000 threshold as a preliminary ‘weed out’ number. … Also, showing that much growth in 10 years — that’s a large number. We’re a growing place.”
In addition the 50,000 population mark also effects some grants and federal funding for projects, along with opportunities for small business Hicks and Cobb told the News-Sun.
“It’s a magic number,” Cobb said. “It was one of the goals when I ran for mayor in 2012. In my campaign, I called it a city of 50. When we get there, I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunities open — and not only for existing businesses. When they see those population numbers it gives (businesses) the motivation to expand and do some other things, but also draws in new businesses.”
Officials think growth in Hobbs and Lea County was probably more than the reported numbers indicate, but with business restrictions put in place by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in early response to COVID-19 just as Census counting efforts were ramping up in April combined with the collapse of the world oil markets due to price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, workers in the area who would have been counted simply moved elsewhere.
“Unfortunately, I think we lost several thousand residents before the final Census was done due to the pandemic and what happened in the oil and gas industry,” Cobb said. “They literally left town, and we maybe didn’t get them counted. Had they been here as we moved toward the end of the Census, I believe we would have had a better opportunity to see even better numbers than what we are seeing.”
But, the oil and gas industry have made a strong comeback since the collapse and Cobb said that is something the area depends on.
“We like to see the steadiness and the continued investment in the area, so that’s positive for sure,” Cobb said about the oil and gas industry currently doing well in southeast New Mexico.
Kernan remembered in 2010, when a similar decline in the oilfield produced a lower population number in the area than expected.
“We’re fortunate to have the numbers as high as they are because it sure could have gone the other way, and I think on the last Census it did,” she said. “We’ve improved a great deal from 2010.”
Hicks said he doesn’t think the area is done growing.
“I think we’re going to see another growth spurt with the addition of the hospital and the likelihood that we’re going to become a regional healthcare hub with that addition. I think it means wonderful things for our hospital district, our JC (Junior College) district, our schools, and I think it shows we are sustainable,” said Hicks. “We’ve been through some ups and downs but we are sustaining growth. I think it says a lot about the success and resilience of our community”
Overall, the increase in population means people want to live in southeast New Mexico for whatever the reason may be, Kernan said.
“I think this sends the message that people like living in southeast New Mexico and I hope people recognize we are a good community and a good place to live. I think it sends a message when people want to live here. … We have good people who want to move here,” she said.
Other data released from the Census Bureau for Lea County includes:
• Total housing units in Hobbs increased from 16,394 to 19,170, or about 16.9 percent. Housing units similarly increased in the county by about 12.2 percent to 27,950 in 2020 compared to 24,919 in 2010.
• $62,843 is the median household income in Hobbs, while $68,457 is the median household income in Lea County, and $51,945 in the median household income in New Mexico. $65,712 is the median household income in the U.S.
• 16.3 percent of residents in Hobbs, 16.4 percent of residents in Lea County, and 18.2 percent of all people in New Mexico live below the poverty line while only 12.3 percent of the overall U.S. population lives below the poverty line.
Editor’s Note: Future stories on the Census data will cover area New Mexico House and Senate seats, and the economic impacts to Hobbs and Lea County.