The death of Ernest O. “Doc” Stewart last Monday is not only a moment where we rightly mourn the loss of a major community leader of the last half century, and were honored and awed by the respect paid to him and his family by the United States Air Force. It also is the time to dream and plan the next generation of economic engines that will bolster Clovis and Curry County for the next 50 years.
Just as we are guided by what Stewart and his peers accomplished these last 50 to 60 years in creating a vibrant Cannon Air Force Base, they were guided by the men and women who took a look at this empty space in eastern New Mexico 99 years ago and saw a town and railroad center. They and others then nurtured an agricultural base to broaden the economy.
The question before us: What will we add to the mix? It is time to develop those answers and strategies as we enter the centennial year of Clovis’s founding in 1907.
Back then, a train or two rumbled through this windy, arid land; today the total often tops 100 trains a day. The first dryland farmers and ranchers who suffered and survived the gritty Great Depression and Dust Bowl days of the 1920s and ’30s are joined today by those who irrigate crops, raise hundreds of head of beef cattle and run large dairy operations.
Stockyards and cotton gins and farm implement dealerships have been joined by related industries like the magnificent Southwest Cheese plant between Clovis and Portales. A barnstorming plane dropping in on a dusty dirt airstrip west of town led to the days of crop dusters and commercial aircraft east of town, while that first airfield has evolved into a military base training first bomber crews during World War II, to the early jet crews of the 1950s and ’60s to the men and women flying and maintaining F-16s from Cannon today.
We believe, as do many, that Cannon will soon get a new mission or missions. Special Operations forces with their cargo planes and helicopters, and unmanned aircraft are among those rumored to be under consideration.
But whatever those missions will be, we know, as Doc Stewart did, that other economic directions must be developed for our families’ future prosperity. It’s great to think the base will grow, but that also is a danger. With 30 percent of the local economy tied to the base, it means if larger missions come here that share also will grow.
We should not let that happen, no matter how good it will be to see “Doc’s base,” as some call Cannon with affection, take on new roles to help train our forces to protect freedom and America across the world.
We must bring other companies and industries and their jobs to the region. We must expand the health-care and retail and housing opportunities for everyone. We must find alternate water supplies to support these activities.
How are we going to do it? Certainly not alone.
A few folks are always out front steering, but they won’t go anywhere without support from all who help them create the future we dream up, just as Doc Stewart was joined by all of us in ensuring Cannon’s status today when we paid for land to protect against encroachment of the base a few years back.
How can we thank the Doc Stewarts of the last 100 years and their families? We think there is no more fitting tribute than to make sure their dreams of a strong future evolve to create the new Clovis and Curry County of the 21st century.