Foresight 40 years ago gave industries a start

By Kevin Wilson

If you were to play word association with Portales residents and use the words, “Industrial Park,” you might have one faction think of church softball, another think of youth soccer and yet another think of the nearby senior citizen center.

But do the same thing with Portales business leaders and they’ll probably tell you about Abengoa Bioenergy or Southwest Canners, or maybe how they’re glad they can associate those businesses with Portales.

Those businesses and others occupy the area of land known as Industrial Park in the southern part of Portales. It’s a grouping of land meant for businesses that can add to the tax base and job market for Portales, and it’s available for the right price (or no price) if a business can prove its worth.

“All of the land out there in the Industrial Park region, we’ve given it away,” said Don Davis, a former two-term Portales mayor and president of the Portales Development Corporation. “If you’ve got land on hand that you can offer them, you’re way ahead of the game.”

Portales has had industrial land available for clients since the mid-1960s. “There are no buildings because we’d only be guessing (what a client needs),” said Kim Huffman, director of the Roosevelt County Community Development Center. “Basically, it’s just land that is already serviced with utilities and already zoned appropriately, and it’s in an area where other manufacturing is going on.”

Several citizens of Portales decided in 1962 that industrial land would be a good investment. Together, they pooled nearly $300,000 in funds. Walter “Cotton” Clark of Portales said that he bought about three shares at $100 each, but others chipped in with about 30 to 40 shares.

Usually when shares are purchased, it is with the intent that those shares will someday become more valuable. Clark said that the share’s only reward in this case would be a better community in which to live.

“There are probably 25 to 30 stockholders still in it,” Clark said. “This is just an investment for the city of Portales. So much of the time, you have to buy industry.”

Business by business, industry did come. The first to arrive was Southwest Canners in 1975, after two years of negotiations landed the company 20 free acres of land — 10 for a canning plant and 10 for a can forming plant that Southwest Canners expected to join.

Now, Southwest Canners is deeply rooted in Portales, moving nearly 17 million cases of beverages to seven states.

Five years later, the PDC donated more land to Portales to be used by Energy Fuels for an ethanol plant. When first built, the plant was expected to produce 10 million gallons of ethanol per year. The plant has changed ownership twice since then (acquired in 1997 by High Plains Ethanol, which was purchased five years later by Abengoa Bioenergy) and now produces 30 million gallons of ethanol per year.

With the higher production of ethanol, more trucks and railroad tankers are needed to ship materials in and out of the plant. Fortunately, Abengoa is located right next to US 70 and an adjacent railroad. Portales did have to spend money to pave Industrial Drive, but the land was close enough that the expenses weren’t too large.

“You’re going to look for something that’s close enough we can run utilities to and not build new pipes,” Huffman said. “It’s going to be close to the highway so trucks can get in and out without building a multimillion dollar road. Being close to a railroad is important for the businesses.”

The park is also home to a pair of dairy businesses, DairiConcepts — which came in 1992 as Mid America Dairymen after receiving 477 acres of free land — and Milk Transport Service.

Without the land, one or all of those businesses might have said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and moved on to a town that did have land ready.

“Probably the biggest detriment would be the time it would take (to get land),” Davis said. “Many times, your industrial client is ready to make a move.”

With those four businesses in the current Industrial Park, there’s no room left for other businesses. Some would look to the area near the Southwest Cheese Plant for future industrial development, but Huffman said that’s not viable for Roosevelt County.

A feasibility study was done in 2004 to see if a road could be built in Roosevelt County for businesses to work with the cheese plant, but the study determined the land needed was already privately owned and used for business.

But that doesn’t mean the future of manufacturing in Portales is in the air. It’s actually by the airport.

“We’ve got more industrial park land that’s all the way around the airport,” Huffman said. “We’re not out of industrial land.”

The main considerations Huffman had for new businesses were that their operations wouldn’t interfere with the business of the airport (i.e. smokestacks creating low visibility).

Whatever comes in the future, or whatever happens with the present businesses, Davis said none of it would be possible without four-decades-old foresight from many in Portales and across the state and country.

“This industrial park in Portales, I think,” Davis said, “is the best example of private individuals, state government, federal government joining together for economic development.”