Businesses have mixed reactions to base enclave

Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers

Slated for closure by the Department of Defense, Cannon Air Force Base was granted a temporary reprieve by a federal commission on Friday. Soon to be stripped of its three F-16 squadrons, the base must find a mission in order to remain open.

Economists say a base closure would put a 30 percent dent in the Clovis-Portales economy. But the refrain among local business people is often less gloomy. Although economic predictions among store owners are mixed, many are putting their own spins on the age-old adage mind over matter.

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The shiny cars on the lot of North Pointe Auto are by no means permanent fixtures. According to finance and insurance manager, Spencer Odom, car sales have remained steady since Cannon was put on the list for closure. He suspects they will remain steady, as long the community remains unfazed by base activity, or non-activity.

“It depends on the attitude of everyone. If everyone freaks out and makes a big deal out if it, then, yes, business might be affected,” said Odom.

“As far as military,” said Richard Barton, owner of Richard Barton Pontiac-Buick-GMC, Inc., “it’s not a big part of our business. What business will be like two years from now, one year from now, six months from now, I have no idea. The best thing would be to quit talking about it, then people could forget about it,” Barton said.

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Tucked away in an office off of South Prince Street, the owner of Geise Realty Investment Co. adamantly refutes the idea that Clovis needs Cannon. Responsible for wrangling in businesses that include La Quinta Inn and Suites, Bill Geise said Clovis can stand on its own two feet.

“Agriculture is the backbone of this town,” Geise said from his office, a stack of blank checks on his desk. “There’s a lot of big things cooking for Clovis that could make Cannon less important.”

The land developer refused to divulge any more information on such “things,” but said he firmly believes the Cannon situation, regardless of how it may end, is surmountable.

“It’s all psychological. There have been some companies who held back (from coming to Clovis) to wait and see what would happen with the base. Now that they have the base open on a temporary basis, that might help a little,” said Geise.

Geise said none of his investors have canceled deals because of Cannon concerns. The base, whether open or shut, Geise said, impacts economy little.

“There’s only 300 or some civilian employees at the base. That’s no big deal,” said Geise, a proponent of shopping for private industries in lieu of military missions.

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In Portales, several washing machines and dryers may see fewer quarters find their way to coin slots. Brenda Stockton, a retired coach and teacher, is owner of the Happy Wash laundromat. She anticpates she’d lose 10 to 15 percent of business at the facility.

Stockton has a fear common to many — that Cannon may still shut down, and the enclave status doesn’t allow the state to do anything with the land.

“I feel like (the base enclave) will affect everyone,” Stockton said. “I don’t understand the way they did it. I would like to ask them, ‘What are we supposed to do, just sit here for two or three years?’”

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Others are unsure of the future as well.

“We’ve been in the unknown since May, we could be in the unknown for the next couple of years, and the unknown is what hurts the real estate business. It’s hard for builders to get excited. I’ve been in this business for 29 years. I’ve had the highest of high and the lowest of lows. And I have to say, Friday was a low point,” said Kenneth Jones, owner and broker of Kenneth Realty, Inc.

His business has already suffered some Cannon-related losses. A planned subdivision was abandoned and no new companies have expressed interest (with his office) for months, Jones said. Still, he balances practicality with optimism.

“We have the cheese plant, and the industries spinning off that,” Jones said. “If we don’t swarm the market with listings, we should be able to hold our own. The good lord knows what’s best for us. We need to try to keep our wits about us and know that there will be something good for Cannon.”

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Ronnie Brooks doesn’t deal in cars or real estate. He sells furniture. It is a business, he said, based on “wants.” That’s why it will be in trouble when Cannon shrinks.

“As they close the base up, (shipping out personnel and F-16s) it will affect business. I would say 25 to 30 percent of business comes from base families,” said Brooks, owner of Shipley Furniture.

“We will try to do business as normal,” Brooks said. “I think we can survive the onslaught.”

Another company that expects to be hit hard by capped base operations is ENMR Plateau, a wireless telephone and Internet service company.

“When they move the jets out, and of course the personnel, we are anticipating a 10 to 15 percent hit on both wireless and Internet business, which obviously concerns us. But we are moving ahead,” said Tom Phelps, CEO of Plateau. He said he will search for new revenue sources should business suffer due to Cannon changes.