Booming local job market expected in near future

Darvin Lamm, facility manager at AquaRanch, said preparations for constructing the fish farm are under way.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

As Illinois-based AquaRanch Industries waits for state approval to raise tilapia, a fish from the Nile River region sold for food, some construction for the fish farm has already started, officials say.

Facility manager Darvin Lamm said the farm would create about 175 jobs once it begins operation. Lamm said the company will provide employee training.

“(Tilapia is) not something that comes naturally to this area,” he said. “Fish is not something most people are savvy to.”

The fish farm is adding to the growing number of new jobs coming into the city. According to Clovis Industrial Development Corp. Executive Director Chase Gentry, about 1,000 new jobs will be created by the new industries, such as call centers and biodiesel plants, in five years. And these jobs will in turn create spin-off jobs in the retail and service industry, he said.

“In the economic theory of it all, if you build that base, then people have more money to spend, so then your retail and all of your community services grow with that,” he said.

The growth, while good for the economy, poses the problem of finding people to take new jobs. According to the CIDC Web site, the unemployment rate in the city is about 3.7 percent.

“I think in this area that’s the biggest problem, is that we don’t have a lot of unemployment,” said Eastern New Mexico University economics professor Sue Stockly.

Gentry said prospective employees could come with Air Force personnel for the new special operations mission at Cannon Air Force Base.

“We look at the growth that’s expected at Cannon Air Force Base, because they ramp up with the special operations mission. There’s going to be a large number of those spouses looking for jobs,” he said.

But it will take at least until 2012 before the base could bring a sizable number of people to Clovis, according to Gentry.

Gentry said the younger generation could be another source of labor if they could be convinced to stay.

But Stockly said the high high school dropout rate in the Portales-Clovis area produces low-skilled workers.

“These jobs might have to be filled by either attracting people from other states, other communities within the state or strengthening our educational system and try to get more people to graduate high school,” she said.

Gentry said the possibility of creating a vocational technical high school was discussed at the last Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce board meeting.

“I think there’s some interest in the educational community. I think there’s also an interest in industries such as Southwest Cheese and others to help develop a skilled workforce that will stay in this community and fill the positions that are available,” he said.

Lamm said he does not see finding workers a problem in the future, even if the farm could grow to 500 employees after five years of operation.

“I’ve been here for 35 years and I’ve always been able to find good help,” Lamm said. “There are people that want to work and the best offering we can make right now is not only reasonable pay but also benefits down the line.”

Number of jobs expected from new industries:
White Hat Energy: 247*
American Medical Alert:175
AquaRanch Industries: 500*
Clovis Biodiesel: 13
American Renewable Fuels: 50

*Jobs expected in 5 years.