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Hagerman sees growth potential on horizon

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Hagerman Municipal Schools Superintendent Ricky Williams, right, exchanges some ideas with Hagerman Mayor Tony Garcia during Saturday’s Future of Hagerman Community Conference. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Hagerman is on the “edge of the Permian Basin,” finding itself in both a great location and at a good economic period to attract new commercial enterprises to the area, according to business and civic leaders who gathered Saturday to talk about ways to help the community grow and improve.

The Future of Hagerman Community Conference at the Lindell Andrews Community Center featured nine speakers and drew about 30 audience members to discuss such topics as a potential five-year plan, current and future infrastructure projects, entrepreneurship, charitable projects, affordable housing, the importance of the 2020 census, improving the appearance of structures and properties, and the career education programs offered by Hagerman schools.

“I know you want to grow, but we want to do it in a positive and constructive way,” said Mayor Tony Garcia, a longtime Hagerman resident elected in 2018. “We don’t want to go from 1,200 to 12,000 overnight, of course not. But we want to grow in a positive way. How are we going to do that? That’s why we are gathered here, to discuss that.”

Garcia noted that the town received $1.087 million in state capital outlay funds from the New Mexico Legislature this year to improve sewers and streets and purchase needed equipment. He also said that he intends to push for additional money for infrastructure improvements in the years ahead.

He and other speakers listed the additional strengths of Hagerman as a $1.5 million, 80-acre industrial park ready for business development; good schools that perform well in terms of graduation rates and student learning; lots of available, affordable property; a caring community; and a low cost of living.

John Mulcahy, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., said Hagerman has two key features for future economic growth, the industrial park and a railroad spur.

“What we are seeing is all types of activity related to the Permian Basin, especially in New Mexico, which is the fastest-growing part of the Permian Basin,” said Mulcahy. “We are 40 miles from the producing hills of … Maljamar. … Let’s all get together to decide how we get Hagerman in the game, not only for the boom and bust period but for the long-term.”

He explained that the oil and gas boom has caused Carlsbad and Artesia to reach their capacities, which puts Hagerman in a good position to attract petrochemical businesses or oil-related enterprises. He added that he is again submitting a $300,000 grant to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that could be used for community improvements if the money is received.

Other speakers talked about their experiences in Hagerman and their suggestions for improvements or asked for community input.

• Dan Jennings — the data technology center director for Hagerman Municipal Schools, an educator at the Roswell Correctional Center and the founder of the Hagerman Forward charitable organization — discussed his work with re-entry programs that help prepare inmates for return to their communities and also prepare communities to accept them as productive citizens. He said that type of effort also can be applied outside the inmate community to help assist people out of poverty, which he said has social, emotional and spiritual aspects as well as financial. He also thought that Hagerman could become a tiny-home community, providing affordable housing to many from nearby cities.

• Rod Adair, a former Hagerman resident and state senator who now serves as editor of the New Mexico Political Journal, said he could remember when the town had several grocery stores and gas stations, quite a few churches and a number of businesses. If the town can offer good schools, a safe community, good neighbors, quality internet and technology, and affordable land, it will be able to attract people, he said.

• Joseph Knight, owner of the new Hagerman Hogwash newspaper, originated the idea for the conference. He said he moved to the area in 2011 from San Juan County because of the affordable property values and lower cost of living. He said the evolution of technology means that people can run all types of businesses from their homes. He thought the issue of water availability was one that needed to be explored more, with the possibility of re-establishing Lake Toliver. He also suggested the town might serve as a good location for a youth camp.

• Ricky Williams, superintendent of Hagerman Municipal Schools, talked about the quality of the schools and the importance the community places on family, which several people said was something they never wanted to have change. He said that the school has a Career Technical Education (CTE) program that can be used both to train high school students for jobs as well as retrain existing workers for new careers.

• Farmer Wesley Pilley said his great-grandfather was a homesteader in Hagerman in the 1920s. While many changes have occurred over the years and challenges exist, he said, the town offers potential employers a labor pool with a strong work ethic and an ability to treat others well.

• Rick Roby, a former cattle rancher who started Fatman’s Beef Jerky, talked about some of the challenges of starting a business. He said he knew nothing about retail when he started his company in 2006, and it only began to perform well and start to grow after he restructured it about three years ago. What he knew when he started the company, he said, was that he could offer a much better quality product than what was currently sold at stores. He also said he has a loyal workforce because he allows them to put their children and families first.

• Chaves County Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr. asked the people gathered to tell them how the county could help the town. He explained that the county will receive about $10 million in state capital funding this year and that not all of that has been earmarked for projects. Ideas included a sheriff’s station, trash compactors, help with animal control and disposal, and continued improvements to roads.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.