Apr 032013

By Linda Kor
Since the opening of Interstate 40 and the demise of Route 66 as a primary highway, the cities of Holbrook and Winslow have dedicated themselves to promoting their most obvious asset. As tourist destinations these cities have become worthy of at least a visit and potentially an extended stay by visitors from throughout the world as they take part in such offerings as local history, Petrified Forest National Park, Meteor Crater and reservation communities, just to mention a few.
For the most part the cities of Winslow and Holbrook have been successful in dusting off the past and making it a marketable item. With its wild and rowdy history as a western frontier to its glory days when Route 66 brought every traveler on the road from the East Coast to the West, many tourists make an effort to follow the path of what has become known as the Mother Road and feed on its rich history.
But although the tourist trade may bring in money as travelers purchase food, gas and stay in hotels, for many people in the area it does little to provide well paying jobs. While other opportunities are available with the county seat in Holbrook, the Department of Corrections in Winslow, the schools and the railroad, more often than not parents have watched their children grow up and leave the area they’ve grown to love for more lucrative offerings in other places.
These cities have made efforts over the years to attract industry through low real estate costs, tax incentives and accessibility to markets through interstate and rail. The success of those endeavors has been limited, but now it appears that these cities are being presented with opportunities to once again flourish and have jobs worth staying (or returning) for.
The solution isn’t coming from better marketing or greater tax incentives, but due to something that has been here all along, long before cowboys, ranchers or Route 66: the area’s natural resources.
In 2008 the Arizona Geological Survey reminded people that the Holbrook Basin was rich in potash, something discovered in the 1960s in a search for oil, but that is now viable on the market. With the nation “going green,” wind farming was introduced near Dry Lake, and in 2009 the briny aquifer east of Holbrook was discovered as the ideal breeding ground for pharmaceutical algae.
The most recent proposed industry comes with a contract award by the Forest Service to Pioneer Forest Products to thin northern Arizona forests as part of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative.
Although most of these jobs have yet to come to fruition as investment funds are sought and permits are obtained, people in these communities are already gearing up for change and hopeful that these industries could mean growth, additional amenities and a better livelihood in the future.
Northland Pioneer College has stepped up to the plate with the construction of a new skills center in Holbrook, which is expected to be complete in the fall. It will provide the training needed for the services required by the mining industry.
The Holbrook Business Development Group has in the planning stages a business forum, as well as a job fair to help the public better understand what sort of business growth and job availability to expect.
Reports from both mining operations, Prospect Global and Passport Potash, indicate there will be an influx of hundreds, potentially thousands, of jobs with starting salaries for a single job higher than the average median household income in Winslow or Holbrook, which, according to the 2011 Navajo County Regional Assessment data is approximately $39,000.
According to former Prospect Global CEO Pat Avery, it’s estimated the Prospect Global mine would call for about 400 permanent employees, with an average salary of about $70,000 to $75,000. Recently Passport Potash tripled the job estimates for its mining operation to approximately 1,770.
As these new industries develop they will require ancillary services such as equipment suppliers, construction trades, oil, gas, dry goods and food; the list goes on and on. It’s in these areas that local business can begin and expand.
As these companies proceed through permitting and projections are made, residents in the two communities have been forced to wait patiently, hoping for something they’ve been waiting for since Interstate 40 took the main artery of traffic away from these small towns; a way to provide a good life for their families and stay in the communities they call home.