PNT Photo: Kevin Wilson
State Economic Development Department Secretary Rick Homans listens as Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega addresses the crowd at the Yam Theater on Thursday morning.
Movies and cheese were the main topics of conversation Thursday when area offficials met with the state’s top economic development official.
Homans was on hand at a presentation for the Yam Theater in Portales, less than an hour after speaking with Clovis and Curry County officials about how eastern New Mexico can attract more movie makers.
“The more (crews) we get, our feeling is the more films we’ll get,” said Rick Homans, the state’s secretary of economic development, who was traveling around the state touting three legislative priorities.
Homans’ trip was intended to begin in Clovis, but ended up in Portales when fog delayed a landing in Clovis. Homans and his staff drove to Clovis, then came back to Portales to recognize the city’s status as a certified center of economic development.
The crowd moved down Main St. to the Yam Theater, which Portales MainStreet officials considered essential as a part of a city renovation.
The theater’s facade is completed, but renovations could have a price tag of nearly $1 million. The theater, MainStreet President Greg Erf said, would ideally host three to four events per week and would be an incentive for new businesses to build around the area.
Erf said that studies indicate that Portales will have a population of 20,000 by 2010, and he doesn’t want that purchasing power going only to Clovis.
“That’s 1,500 people arriving every year,” Erf said. “We can’t ignore them. The opportunity is now, not tomorrow. Every time a Chili’s or a Red Lobster opens in Clovis, that’s another nail in our coffin.”
The Yam was featured as background during filming of “Believe in Me” last year. Homans hopes for more opportunities like that for the area. Homans said the key to unlocking the film business on the High Plains is developing training programs, thereby deepening the number of qualified crew members.
Clovis/Curry County Chamber Executive Director Ernie Kos agreed.
“I think that would be a huge incentive for movies that are looking at locations if we could say that we have a skilled labor force (in Clovis),” Kos said.
She said developing Clovis into a film destination is a big priority for the chamber in 2005.
New Mexico’s loss of the feature film, “Every Word is True,” with its reported $70 million budget, to Austin, Texas, underscored the need to pursue an aggressive training program, the secretary said.
“In the future we want to have as much of the crew to come from local communities (as possible),” Homans said.
Among the communities in New Mexico producers scouted for the film was Clovis, but film officials in December made the decision to film in Texas.
Among the stars reported to be in the film are Sandra Bullock, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd.
Initially crew members wanted to film the drama, about a writer’s relationship with two convicted murders, in New Mexico, Curry County Chamber of Commerce officials said in November.
After the filming of “Believe in Me,” in Clovis, Kos said she’d like to see Clovis turn into a little movie community, a Hollywood on the Plains so to speak.
Homans said public school programs in other cities — Deming, for example — train students to be crew members and prepare them for the movie business.
But movies aren’t the only big business to embrace Clovis this past year.
Homans said the additional economic activity resulting from the Southwest Cheese plant is creating new opportunities for the area and spin-off businesses.
Clovis and Portales economic officials are doing well to keep up with all of the economic “ripple” effect, he said.
“You hit on all cylinders, and this is the time to keep that up,” he said.
After visiting Portales, Homans was scheduled to fly to Lovington and Hobbs.
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Homans also outlined three legislative priorities for the administration:
• Institute the smart money initiative partnership between the New Mexico Finance Authority and the economic development department. The initiative would provide a $30 million fund used for loan guarantees, reducing the risk for banks and allowing them to invest in growth projects.
“A program like this would be the missing piece of the puzzle that would make the project come together and move forward,” he said.
• Extend the rural jobs tax credit permanently. The tax credit provides an employer with a $1,000 credit for four years on every new job created.
• Push through a research and development credit that would give startup technology companies a three-year tax holiday. This will provide a good environment for entrepreneurs and startup businesses, Homans said.
PNT Managing Editor Kevin Wilson contributed to this report.