Area officials explore many avenues for economic development

Patrick Vanderpool's plan for improving Quay County's economy is not complicated.

The North American Wind Research and Training Center at Mesalands Community College is one of the examples of economic development through the renewable energy field. The center trains students on how to maintain and operate wind turbines.

"Before you invite guests, you have to set the table," said the director of the Greater Tucumcari Economic Development Corporation.

Few would argue the county needs a boost. Its median annual household income of $27,000 is third-lowest in the state, according to U.S. Census data. About a quarter of Quay County residents live in poverty, the data shows.

The chief invited guest at Quay County's economic development table is still the Coronado Racetrack and Casino, which is in state-wide competition for the necessary gambling license.

But Quay County's economic development leaders are setting tables to entice a variety of other possible businesses, too.

Those include Xcel's $15.8-million backup power generator project; installation of high-speed fiber optic communication cables; and a reclaimed water pipeline from the new sewage treatment plant to New Mexico State University's Agriculture Experiment Station east of Tucumcari. The experiment station will test agricultural uses for reclaimed water, Vanderpool said.

Federal funds have made significant contributions. Andrew Stoddard, of Rep. Ben Ray Lujan's (D-NM) staff, said Quay County has received nearly $24 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds since the act was passed in 2009. Much of that has gone toward economic development projects.

A list of ARRA projects shows Logan received $9.5 million for sewers and wastewater treatment facilities. Tucumcari received $1.5 million to finance its new wastewater treatment facility and water supply system improvements.

ARRA funds also contributed to ENMR-Plateau's recent installation of fiber-optic cable in Tucumcari and other communities.

A Federal Aviation Administration grant of $307,800 is financing runway improvements at Tucumcari Airport, according to Kenny Lujan of the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

Federal and local funds combined with a $1.4 million in state funds for renovation at the Tucumcari Train Depot area of Tucumcari's downtown, said Mark Lake, director of Tucumcari Main Street.

These new additions to the table décor join significant settings already in place, according to Vanderpool and others. Among them is Tucumcari's location at the junction of Interstate 40 and U.S. Route 54, which hosts more than 20,000 vehicles a day through Tucumcari, Vanderpool said.

The area's persistent winds are another key asset, Vanderpool said, despite threatened cuts to federal renewable energy development subsidies.

The North American Wind Research and Training Center at Mesalands Community College and the college itself are also among draws to Quay County, Vanderpool said.

The Dan C. Trigg Memorial Hospital is another.

Quay County has not been immune from the effects of the economic crash of 2008, including tight credit and slow growth nationwide, Vanderpool said, but longer-standing troubles have also constrained the area's economic growth.

Even after several decades, the area still feels the impact of railroad and trucking company pullouts, County Manager Richard Primrose said.

"The people who held high-skill jobs there left," Primrose said. "It's rough having to start all over again, and that's what we've had to do."

Twelve years of drought, Primrose said, have reduced cattle and crop production in the county.

Vanderpool added that the state's gross receipts tax system also deters new business, even though New Mexico claims no inventory tax as does Texas.

Taking both assets and concerns into account, Vanderpool said GTEDC efforts are focused on large wind energy projects, established businesses that are still growing, transportation and warehousing, metal fabrication, and agriculture.

Tourism, too, is a major emphasis. Kevin Mueller, owner of Tucumcari's historic Blue Swallow Motel, said he has seen increased tourist interest in nostalgia for the Route 66 of the 1950s and '60s.

Vanderpool and other economic development officials are urging patience while the nation recovers economically, but they continue to set the table.

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