Study: Downtown key to future

CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle Workers in the downtown make more on average than workers in other areas of Clovis, according scientist Jeffrey Mitchell.

By Jean Verlich: CNJ news editor

Clovis’ commercial corridor is creeping north on Prince Street, pulling businesses and residents away from the city’s once-vital downtown. Yet Main Street holds the key to Clovis’ economic future, according to a University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research study.

“The city’s greatest weaknesses are Main Street’s greatest strength,” said Jeffrey Mitchell, a UNM senior research scientist who presented the findings at a Clovis MainStreet forum last week.

Mitchell found Clovis’ retail sector doing well but without a strong complement of professional services such as finance, insurance, legal, engineering and architecture.

“Those are notably weak here,” he said, “relative to the size of the market.”

Comparing money flowing out of the local economy with money flowing in results in what Mitchell called a “pull factor.” A balance would give a pull factor of 100 percent.

Clovis is at 95 percent, with “leakages” of about $36 million more in goods and services purchased by Clovis residents than being bought here.

By comparison, in 1989, the pull factor was 132 percent, Mitchell said.

Those statistics were surprising to Robyne Beaubien, Clovis MainStreet executive director.

The study was funded by New Mexico MainStreet, which is sponsored by the New Mexico Economic Development Department.

Beaubien was also surprised by the statistics on downtown.

Nearly 1,500 people work in 149 businesses along the Main Street area, the study shows. They account for 11 percent of Clovis’ workforce and 14 percent of businesses.

“It was higher than I thought it would be,” Beaubien said of the employment numbers.

Mitchell found people working downtown earn above the town average.

“The typical person working downtown is earning more money than other parts,” he said.

Yet, residential development is lacking downtown as are amenities such as high-end retail stores, eating and drinking establishments and accommodations that would attract and retain an educated labor force.

What is downtown “is undoubtedly a strong concentration of professional services,” he said.

“Clovis as a whole doesn’t provide enough professional services,” Mitchell said. “So putting these two parts together, downtown should capitalize on its strengths in order to help Clovis address its broader weakness.”

Mitchell suggests the overall weakness in professional services and Clovis’ underperforming economy may be associated with the level of adults with postsecondary degrees and the “relative scarcity of well-educated workers.”

“This is where educated people would live,” Mitchell explained, based on Clovis’ role as the business center for the Eastern Plains. “Yet that’s not happening.”

To spur the economy, Clovis needs to boost its professional services, which already have a strong foundation downtown, Mitchell said.

“Education and the economy go hand-in-hand,” Mitchell said. “Invest in the place where it has the foundation to build on.”

That’s what Beaubien plans.

She will be working with Clovis MainStreet’s economic positioning committee to make a recommendation to the city and county, which help fund the organization.

“We will strategize what can be done with the information, and work with the city (and county) to do it,” she said.

Gordon Smith, chairman of the economic positioning committee, said an inventory of properties will be taken with an eye toward building up the residential population, especially in second stories above storefront businesses.

Smith and Beaubien want to show what Clovis’ Main Street has to offer.

It won’t be the old Clovis, Beaubien said.

“We want a new vision for downtown,” she said.

Fast facts

Clovis’ Main Street area employment

149 businesses
1,470 employees
$27,400 average wage, just above city average