Eastern New Mexico University opened in Portales in 1934 and has grown to become the third largest university in the state. Peanuts and sweet potatoes were formerly the largest crops in the area. Although Portales is one of the largest producers of Valencia peanuts in the United States, it is now better known for its dairy industry.
It is the principal city of the Portales Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is part of the larger Clovis-Portales Combined Statistical Area.
The study identified 12 categories including population growth, per capita income, small business growth, professional jobs, commuting, cost of living, and advanced degrees. Cities were given points for positive results and negative scores if they were below the national averages. These scores were then totaled to determine its overall rank on the list of micropolitan areas.
Portales, the smallest city in the top 25, received a quality of life score of 8.96, the 15th highest score in the nation. According Scott Thomas, the author of the study, the income per capita, short commuting times, low taxes, and substantial percentage of adults with a graduate degree contributed to the ranking. Los Alamos was the only other New Mexico city to be recognized in the top 20.
Since its discovery, the Blackwater Locality No. 1 Site has been a focal point for scientific investigations by academic institutions and organizations from across the country. The Carnegie Institute, Smithsonian Institution, Academy of Natural Sciences, National Science Foundation, United States National Museum, National Geographic Society, and more than a dozen major universities either have funded or participated in research at Blackwater Draw.
Additionally, due to the site's long-term potential for additional research and to public interest, the site was incorporated into the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and has more recently been declared a National Historic Landmark.
Sunland Inc. in Portales is the largest U.S. exporter of certified organic peanut products and a major U.S. processor and distributor of sweet Valencia peanuts. DairiConcepts of New Zealand processes local milk into milk solids for domestic and export use, including a growing stock of certified organic milk solids. Spanish energy corporation Abengoa Energy operates an ethanol plant in Portales, and Southwest Canning operates a canning and bottling plant.
The Portales economy is also connected to Cannon Air Force Base located approximately 12 miles to the north. The base operates a leased military housing area in Portales with 150 single family dwellings. Major Portales retailers include Super Wal-Mart, True Value hardware, small privately-owned boutique shops and services in the downtown area, IGA grocers, several furniture stores, Allsups convenience stores, and a number of discount retailers and auto dealers.
In 2002, the US Census recorded wholesale trade of $53,713,000 and retail trade of $147,174,000 in Roosevelt County. In 2006, data from econometrics firm EMSI predicted that by 2015, Roosevelt County would experience over 50% employment growth in several key economic sectors, including professional and business services, education and health services, and manufacturing. The same report predicted over 100% growth in leisure and hospitality services in the Portales area by 2015. In 2007, Buxton Incorporated conducted a retail location analysis for Portales and found the retail market potential to be over $180 million, nearly $40 million higher than existing retail trade.
Unemployment in Roosevelt County in 2007 averaged 3%, and in 2007 the cost of living in Portales was approximately 80% of the US average, based primarily on the historically low but rising cost of housing in the area.
The population density of Portales in 2000 was 1,624.9 people per square mile (627.4/km²). There were 4,862 housing units at an average density of 709.7/sq mi (274.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 68.80% White, 2.28% African American, 1.12% Native American, 0.96% Asian, 0.09% Pacific Islander, 23.39% from other races, and 3.35% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 38.13% of the population.
There were 4,188 households in Portales in 2000,out of which 33.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.3% were married couples living together, 14.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.5% were non-families. 27.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.49 and the average family size was 3.09.
In the city the population was fairly young with 26.3% under the age of 18, 20.1% from 18 to 24, 25.4% from 25 to 44, 15.9% from 45 to 64, and 12.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 27 years. For every 100 females there were 93.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.8 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $24,658 in 2000 and the median income for a family was $30,462. Males had a median income of $27,080 versus $20,625 for females. The per capita income for the city was $12,935 in 2000. About 18.8% of families and 24.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.5% of those under age 18 and 17.5% of those age 65 or over. By 2007, per capita income had risen significantly, while the poverty rate had dropped. The creative class quotient for Portales was 21% in 2007.