Clovis welcomes a call center and 300 new jobs, but despite the boominq dairy industry, a cheese factory isn't happening

Plans to build a cheese plant are now on hold, but Clovis is about to enter the information economy with the opening of a high-tech call center.

A group of 11 independent dairymen had planned to build the plant, securing an incentive package that included 40 acres of land, five years of tax discounts, reduced wastewater treatment costs and $900,000 of USDA-approved construction loans.

"We just didn't think that everything was coming together," Doug Handley, owner Do-Rene Dairy, said. "There was the possibility that Dairy Farmers of America (in Portales) was going to open a similar facility, so there was a question of an adequate milk supply."

Curry County Agent Stan Jones agreed. "We need more dairies before we can have a cheese plant," Jones said. "Our group of local guys can't compete with Dairy Farmers of America." DFA has 33 plants in 15 states and-processes 37 billion pounds of milk each year.

Meanwhile, the Clovis dairymen have bought a -controlling interest in Farm Fresh, a Chandler, OkLa., milk processing plant. Handley said that the cheese plant idea is not dead. "We'll reevaluate the project in another year," he said. Dr. Michael Looper, New Mexico State University Extension dairy specialist,, predicted that there will be at least four new dairies in the Clovis-Portales area next year.

Agriculture is a major economic factor in Curry County, which has the largest number of acres of farmland in the state, both irrigated and dry land., The county's agricultural cash receipts for 1998 were $196 million, the third highest in the state. Wheat, corn and milo are major crops, and the expansion of the dairy industry has increased markets for feed and silage.

There's no denying that economic hopes were high for the cheese plant. "This has been a big disappointment for us," Ernie Kos, executive director of the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce, said. "But ClientLogic's new call center is under construction and we're excited about that. They chose Clovis because of the training that Clovis Corn munity College can provide."

ClientLogic is a Nashville-based company that provides e-commerce, online customer support and Internet marketing for clients such as Dell, Microsoft and Earthlink. The New Mexico Department of Labor awarded the company, which operates two call centers in Albuquerque, the 1999 Employer of the Year Award. The Clovis facility, scheduled to open in September, will initially create 300 jobs with possible expansion to 500.

"ClientLogic wanted to partner with an institution of higher education, so the college took the leadership role in recruitment," Tom Drake, assistant to president of Clovis Community College, said. "The fact that they could build the facility across the street from the campus and that they could draw workers from the college and from the base really helped their decision to locate in Clovis."

Senator Pete Domenici's Rural Payday Initiative was instrumental in attracting the company as well. The program markets communities to companies with telemarketing centers, financial data centers and Internet services. Clovis was one of the original communities targeted, since it had adequate telecommunications infrastructure, workforce and buildings.

Cannon Air Force Base is located between Clovis and Portales and is a major economic player for both communities. Built in 1942, Cannon is home to the 27th Fighter Wing and employs 4,685 military and 670 civilian workers.

Two years ago, the Singapore Air Force established a permanent squadron at Cannon. The 428th Fighter Squadron trains pilots on the F-16, according to Capt. Susan A. Romano, public affairs officer.

"Many of the original personnel are about to be transferred out, which means new people coming in," Romano said. The squadron is a permanent installation, with some U.S. military personnel providing administration and ground crew support.

Clovis was built in 1906 by the railroad, and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad is still a large part of the economy with 60 to 85 trains coming through the terminal daily, according to Allan Potter, terminal superintendent. Loaded trailers on flatcars--intermodal traffic--arrive from points east and south. The trains are reformed for destinations in northern or southern California. The railroad recently completed a $169 million project to lay double track between Clovis and Belen. Clovis is the headquarters for the New Mexican portion of the railroad, and its terminal employs 550.

Clovis has daily commercial air service to Albuquerque and Roswell, and Kos said that negotiations are underway for eastbound service to Dallas. "Companies don't look at Clovis because we don't have that connection," Kos said.

In the retail sector, Dillard's department store will open in August in what was the old Wal-Mart, vacant since the Wal-Mart Super Center opened in 1998. "We're hoping that Dillard's will be an anchor store for attracting more businesses to the North Plains Mall," Kos said. "We want to keep people shopping locally and stop some of the leakage to Lubbock and Amarillo."

Two new lodging facilities are under construction. The Hampton Inn is scheduled to open this fall, and the Quality Inns & Suites of Clovis will be ready in early 2001.

In March, the city approved a 1/8 percent gross receipts tax for economic development. This will generate approximately $500,000 annually, Kos said.

The city has entered an agreement with the non-profit Clovis Industrial Development Corporation to purchase 240 acres for a new industrial park. "We've been working on this for four years," Kos said. "Our next step is to find funding for development and planning."

With all this and a county unemployment rate of 3.8. percent, "this community is really looking good for the future," Kos said.


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