When Love’s Travel Stops completes its massive new location in the city of Westmorland some time in 2019 it will be the fruition of efforts literally decades in the making.
Make no mistake, the diminutive municipality’s multi-million-dollar investment on the development is a high-roller-style wager. However, being located in Imperial County, which has among the highest poverty and unemployment rates in California, the expected 30-40 jobs coming with it cannot be overlooked, observers agree.
“For a town like Westmorland, 40 jobs are significant. Well-paying jobs that are meaningful and established long term,” said Priscilla Lopez, interim director of the Imperial County Workforce Development Office.
The city’s population has lingered around 2200-2300 since 2010 and it has been largely bypassed by the population and commercial expansion in Imperial County over the last three decades.
Perhaps no more.
“We’re going to be open to more development,” stressed Westmorland Mayor Larry Ritchie. “We’re thankful to have them. That’s why we were willing to make compromises.”
Of the jobs, the mayor added, “30-40 jobs would be really nice. Clerking, stocking jobs. We’ve got a lot of young folks waiting (for Love’s) to open their doors.”
Ritchie recalled plans for the site at Highway 86 (Miller Avenue) and Martin Road go back to 2002 with another developer whose efforts foundered in the recession that began in 2008. Love’s first expressed interest in 2009 and the city annexed the land that year.
“A whole bunch of folks just put a lot of energy into it,” he added.
A Love’s official said the firm hopes to begin construction on the 14.6-acre site this summer and open in early 2019. But that may not be the end of the project, Ritchie revealed.
“There’s a second parcel, 10 acres (adjacent to the Love’s site). They (Love’s) said they would be open to any addition projects. Just bring us ideas,” he said.
To close the deal the city committed up to $2.65 million in “fee credits” and reimbursement of other developer costs for Love’s, states an agreement on file at the Imperial County Recorder’s office. The city also committed to reimbursing Love’s for a portion of the sales tax the company must pay on transactions at the travel stop, it adds.
Love’s, meanwhile, ponied up nearly $1 million for undergrounding a nearby irrigation canal and a possible traffic light.
To provide scale, given Westmorland’s small size the agreement is analogous to a city the size of San Diego investing more than $1 billion in a project.
In full scope the effort goes much further back. Highway 86 between Westmorland and the Coachella Valley cities about 75 miles up the road was a two-lane thoroughfare with so many crashes locals nicknamed it “blood alley.”
Teaming up in the 1970s the public works directors of Imperial and Riverside counties launched an effort to make it a four-lane divided freeway. It took decades but the final stretch of that segment of 86 went to four lanes in the late 1990s.
Next up, was the “Brawley Bypass,” which was completed in 2012 and connects Highway 111, a major truck corridor that starts on the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico, with Highway 86. With the opening of the Calexico East Port of Entry in 1996 and its expanded truck lanes, Imperial County has become a major thoroughfare for truck traffic from the border area to the Los Angeles area and its sea ports.
Love’s is not the only entity to notice. It’s competitor, Pilot Flying J, has announced it will soon break ground on a travel center on the east end of Brawley about 10 miles east of Westmorland.
“Flying J. Love’s. They’re looking for markets and until they see the (traffic) numbers, they won’t act,” said Imperial County Supervisor Ryan Kelley, whose District 4 includes Westmorland and part of Brawley.
“It’s got to be they recognize the amount of traffic they see in the Coachella Valley corridor,” he said.
Concerning the jobs, he added, “Every little bit helps. In Westmorland that does have an impact. And there will be ancillary jobs, the multiplier effect.”
At the Workforce office Lopez said the agency leverages the opening of new businesses.
“We’ll make sure to contact Love’s because we do have a list of employees ready to work. We listen to the businesses, so they have what they need to grow,” she said.
The agency acts as a conduit between job seekers and employers and beyond just helping people find a job facilitates training to meet the needs of employers.