Campground owners’ turnaround recognized by Mesalands

By Thomas Garcia: Quay County Sun

Two local business owners attribute their turnaround status to staff at Mesalands Community College’s Small Business Development Center.

Lane and Cindy Lewis’ KOA Campground was recently honored at the state Capitol as the year’s outstanding SBDC client at Mesalands.

“I was blown away by how many avenues of help they had,” said Lane Lewis.

Lewis and his wife Cindy have owned and operated the KOA in Tucumcari since Aug. 30, 2006.

Cindy Lewis said they were excited and proud to have purchased a business that had been in operation for 41 years along Route 66.

“We have had the opportunity to meet and talk with travelers from across the nation and from other countries,” she said.

But Cindy Lewis said trouble began at the start of the 2008 travel season with increasing gas prices.

“People were not traveling as much,” she said. “Travel was seen as a needless expense at the time and tourism dropped.”

In addition to the rising gas prices, which meant fewer customers, the campground also had to meet new national codes and standards, she said. That meant plumbing repairs, electrical work, drainage issues and swimming pool repairs.

“Everything happened at the worst possible time,” Lane Lewis said. “It all was hitting at once and we just seemed to be spiraling down out of control.”

So the Lewises went to their bank for help, where they were referred to Carl Kallansrud, director of the SBDC at Mesalands.

“Before all of this, I did not even know that the SBDC was there,” Lane Lewis said. “Carl really stepped in for us and made sure our ducks were in a row.”

He said Kallansrud assisted them in preparing a loan proposal and with Small Business Administration forms. He said he even helped to arrange the required environmental survey. He said the loan they received was at a low interest rate, which saved them thousands of dollars.

“Despite early complications with the bank the SBDC helped the bank to complete the loan application,” Lane Lewis said. “With that loan we have been able to improve the campground and start saving money.”

Lane Lewis said before their dealings with the SBDC the money generated by the campground was going toward the mortgage payment and the operation of the campground.

“We were not seeing a return,” Cindy Lewis said. “We were making enough to stay open and survive. Basically the place feeds us.”

Lane Lewis said the business is healthier now.

“This is the first winter in four years that we did not have to go to the bank and talk to them about late payments,” he said. “The SBDC deserves a lot of credit. Their patience and drive helped us out so much.”

Lane Lewis said he recommends other businesses check out the SBDC in their area. He said the tools and services they have to offer business owners are very helpful.

“I recently spoke with the owner of a KOA campground in Oklahoma,” he said. “They are experiencing some financial trouble with the economy. I told them to visit their local SBDC.”

The Lewises said they are planning on adding new items to the campground to draw in more travelers and encourage them to stay longer in the area.

“It’s all about attracting tourist to stay and experience Tucumcari,” Lane Lewis said.