Hawthorne base makes room for private enterprise

Published: Jun. 28, 2016 at 1:17 PM PDT
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Recent times have not been kind to Hawthorne.

Its population has been dwindling. Nearby Walker Lake, once a major recreation attraction, is dying. And in 2005 it came close to losing its sole big economic engine--its huge Army ammunition depot--to the Base Realignment and Closure or BRAC process.

Support for economic development efforts from local government has sometimes been spotty and all this has made Hawthorne an even harder sell for companies looking to relocate or expand.

However, a ceremony and ribbon cutting held at the base June 28, 2016 may mark the moment of a turnaround for this hard luck community.

The occasion was the announcement of the creation of the Hawthorne Technology and Industrial Center--essentially a business park which could end up occupying a few thousand acres of this sprawling base.

"It's a game-changer having a more-than-16,000-acre certified economic development site," says Mineral County Economic Development Director Shelley Hartmann, who has been working for years to get to this point..

A military base--even one operated by a private contractor--may seem an odd host for private enterprise, but in fact there's nothing new here. The Army has a program--authorized by Congress--to allow the commercial use of under-utilized property and resources on some bases.

"I think this will be fantastic," says Lt. Col. Gregory Gibbons, who partnered with local officials to help create the center. "We do it in many other facilities throughout the Army and throughout the country."

The depot will continue to operate but--it's hoped--private companies will be attracted here for the same reasons the base is located here: Plenty of space, security, a climate allowing outdoor storage and lots of existing infrastructure--like rail lines--offering easy access to West Coast markets.

"Some of the customers back east are looking at it as their stepping stone to get into the California market," says Todd Poland, president of the logistics company Top Rail.

At the least his company may store thousands of rail cars here ready for use when needed, but the possibility of using existing storage buildings for products, transferring them from rail to truck, also holds promise for growth and more jobs.

His company--along with a major fireworks firm--are the first to sign up. Hartmann says others are interested. An aerial drone firm is waiting in the wings.

No one knows how many jobs this might mean, but its impact could reach beyond this town to the nearby Walker River Paiute Indian Reservation. Tribal Chairman Bobby Sanchez was among the dignitaries cutting the ceremonial ribbon.

"We have a need for more jobs," he says, " and we have people eager to work."

Suddenly the economic future for this area, so long in decline, is looking considerably brighter.

"Hopefully we'll have I-11 going right through the middle of it and it will be a very big game changer for Mineral County and the region," says Hartmann.

Hawthorne may face another test when it comes to the routing of that north-south interstate.

While I-11 will likely generally follow the existing US 95 right-of-way through Nevada, some, including Congressman Mark Amodei, who no longer represents Hawthorne, are pushing for an alternate route which would bypass the area and its new industrial center.

For the moment, however, Hawthorne and vicinity has reason for optimism, something which has often been in short supply in recent years.