By Gary Mitchell
State Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans said he will focus on job creation opportunities.
Q: How long have you served as secretary of the state Economic Development Department?
A: Since Jan. 1. When Gov. Bill Richardson got elected, I was his first cabinet appointment.
Q: Prior to this position, what was your background?
A: I’m a small businessman. I own a small publishing company, Starlight Media Group, in Albuquerque. It’s being managed by someone else now. We’ve published a lot of visitor guides for many communities around the state. I’ve been very involved in marketing throughout the state.
Q: Does that kind of business background help in your new position with the state?
A: On a personal level, it’s very fulfilling when you get to know each community well enough to find out what makes it a special place to the people who live there — it’s core of distinctiveness. That helps a lot in this job. I’ve also been in sales quite a bit, so I have a good understanding of what communities need and what businesses need in order to create new jobs.
Q: What do you see as a primary role for the state Economic Development Department?
A: Job creation is a huge priority for the governor. We had a large agenda going into the state legislative session this year, and we had 47 of our 50 bills passed. We had tremendous support.
Q: What were some of the issues you encountered on this trip to Clovis and Portales?
A: I met with the Committee of Fifty and went to meet with Col. Robert Yates, the 27th Fighter Wing commander, and we had a meeting with the adjutant general of the State Highway Department about the overpass at Cannon Air Force Base. It needs to look and function better. The base is about to put in $3.5 million worth of improvements, and that overpass is the gateway to the base. It’s a critical component of the base, and it’s a reflection of the value the community puts on the base and the pride it shows. So we’re exploring what can be done about that.
Q: Did the overpass possibility for Wheaton Road come up?
A: We helped to negotiate between the city, the county and the railroad, so I wanted to go out and actually see Wheaton Road, to see the neighborhood, to see N.M. 467 and understand the dynamics. In my meeting with the Highway and Transportation Department, they agree that with all the parties involved, we should be able to come up with the funds to get it done. The State Highway and Transportation Department is working on the precise details right now. Everybody will be involved — the railroad, the city, the county, the state and the federal government. It makes such a difference when you’re not looking just to the feds for money — that there are other parties willing to be involved.
Q: How do you perceive the process is going for the growth and expansion of the railroad and its impact on the Clovis area?
A: If we don’t solve these problems today, we won’t have a railroad in Clovis tomorrow. We’re making a long-term plan, and Clovis is in that long-term plan. We need to stay with that long-term plan. As long as Clovis works with the railroad in its growth and expansion, it will continue to grow and develop as well. In that process, of course, there are a lot of details to be worked out and agreements made. We can’t gloss over them. We have to focus on them and work through them. That process is going well now. The neighborhood is being listened to. The railroad is participating, and local and state and federal governments are at the table. There are still issues to work through, but it’s headed in the right direction.
Q: Besides the base and the railroad, you mentioned agriculture as a key to this area’s economy. What did you mean by that, and how can your office or the state help?
A: The plan is to attract to this area the dairies, the milk and cheese plants needed to boost the agricultural economy. You also have a fledgling industry of wind farms developing here. Eastern New Mexico would be a prime location for that kind of industry.
Q: What‘s your impression of the Clovis-Portales area?
A: In communities like Clovis and Portales, it’s appreciated when we come out here. A big part of our job is to listen and to support. We want to know what your priorities and your plans are. The governor takes his lead from the communities. There’s a strong feeling that we need to pay more attention to rural New Mexico. In Clovis and Portales, the challenges are manageable. There’s a can-do attitude among the people, good local leadership and a desire to move forward. You’ve got to have that to make things happen.
— Compiled by CNJ Senior Writer Gary Mitchell