Governor celebrates economy

By Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers

The economy of eastern New Mexico is on the mend was the message of Gov. Bill Richardson, who visited Clovis on Saturday to announce the arrival of a major ethanol plant and celebrate the landing of a new mission for Cannon Air Force Base.

Both developments will strengthen the region’s economy, Richardson said.

The largest ethanol plant in the state is set to operate in Clovis. A joint venture of ConAgra Trade Group and Carlye/Riverstone Renewable Energy Infrastructure Fund I, L.P., the plant will produce more than 100 million gallons of ethanol a year, derived from corn.

Last week, Air Force officials announced the Air Force Special Operations 16th Wing would assume ownership of Cannon Air Force Base by October 2007., The base had previously been threatened with closure.

With the new mission, Richardson said, 1,000 additional personnel will likely be stationed at Cannon within two to three years. Roughly 4,000 active-duty and civilian personnel are currently stationed at Cannon.

“That is going to mean more jobs, more homes, more income,” Richardson said.

The governor addressed a crowd of more than 100 who gathered outside the Curry County Courthouse. His messages regarding Cannon and the plant were greeted with cheers, hoots, and at one point, a standing ovation.
“It will add a few more cheeseburgers sold, a few more contracts on my table,” said Clovis building contractor Terry Curry of the ethanol plant and the new Cannon mission.
Economic development is one of the chief concerns of Clovis resident Candyce Phelps, who welcomes base expansion and the new plant.

“It makes this community more secure. It will be great for our economy,” she said.

The ethanol plant is expected to employ more than 100 people, with 50 positions at the plant and another 50 to 75 indirect positions in service of the plant.

Construction of the plant will begin in October, and production should start in late 2007, according to Martin Higgins, Con Agra executive vice president of business development and commercial products.

The alternative fuel will be sold in Texas, Colorado, California and elsewhere, he said. Corn for the production of the alcohol-based fuel will be shipped on BNSF Railway, he said.

Although this is the first ConAgra ethanol venture, the company has been in Clovis for more than 15 years, said Higgins, who joined Richardson in Clovis on Saturday. The $150 million plant will be built near the existing ConAgra Peavy grain elevator on U.S. 60/84.

“We think that Clovis makes perfect sense for ConAgra,” Higgins said.

He cited the receptive community, the railroad, and the agricultural community as reasons.