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West Wendover seeing signs of a growing economy

Published: Saturday, March 19 2011 6:40 p.m. MDT

More people are visiting West Wendover, Nev. Now many businesses in the area may have to start hiring to keep up with the increase of visitors. While it is still too early to say that West Wendover has recovered from the economic crash of 2008, but there are plenty of signs things are getting better.

Alex Cabrero, Deseret News

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WEST WENDOVER, Nev. — Karen Floyd does her best to keep herself busy.

There are papers to file, airplane data sheets to record, and memorabilia to sell. Even when there's really nothing to do at the Historic Wendover Airfield, she finds something.

"I know it looks slow, but things are really starting to pick up," said Floyd.

Even though the Wendover airport is located on the Utah side of Wendover, all of its business is really for the Nevada side. And lately, that business is getting busier.

"It's been a lot better the past few months than it has been the past few years," said Floyd, who works as a secretary at the airfield. "Back when we didn't have the tourism, people started losing their jobs."

Now, though, many businesses in the area may have to start hiring to keep up with the increase of visitors. It is still too early to say that West Wendover has recovered from the economic crash of 2008, but there are plenty of signs things are getting better.

"We're seeing a gradual growth in business, a lot of bodies, and it's been very nice," said John Spillman, marketing director for the Peppermill Resorts in West Wendover, Nev. "We're seeing more traffic out here. Our hotels are now full every weekend, our events are getting filled up, and there just seems to be a lot more traffic."

Spillman is from West Wendover. He knows how important tourism and a healthy economy are to his hometown.

"Eighty-five percent of our tourism is from the Wasatch Front in Utah," said Spillman. "The turnaround we're seeing is because of the economic growth in Utah. As Utah grows, so does Wendover."

Buses shuttling people between Salt Lake City and West Wendover have been busier as well.

"The past couple of years have been hard," said Juanita Chavez, who runs the Wendover bus program for Lewis Stages in Salt Lake City. "We would average maybe 8 to 10 people on our morning buses. Now, lately, we're averaging between 45 to 55."

Cheyenne Greenhalgh, of Salt Lake City, was on one of those buses Saturday afternoon.  She thinks packed buses mean a better economy.

"There's more money, yeah," said Greenhalgh. "There are more people actually spending it and wanting to get out and do stuff and not stay in their houses."

However, another rider on the same bus had a different opinion.

"This is just a really cheap way to get to Wendover to have some fun," said Gilda Holder, of Salt Lake City. "If the economy was doing so much better, which I don't think it is, people would be driving more than taking the bus."

The parking lots outside of West Wendover's five casinos are busier than they've been the past six months. Spillman thinks people just want to have a good time.

"I think people are feeling more positive and optimistic about the future of our country and of themselves personally and financially," he said.

A lot of this weekend's traffic could be because of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, but Spillman says there is a lot more to do in the area than just gamble.  There's a relatively new concert hall, which brings in top-notch acts from across the country.

Many people ride ATVs in the mountains and take outdoor recreation guides for mountain adventures. Lots of people come just to see the Bonneville Salt Flats.

For history buffs, there is the old Victory Highway and the Historic Wendover Airfield, where the Enola Gay's hangar is being fixed.

"More people are coming into the museum," Floyd said.

Starting in May, flights going in and out of the Wendover airport will double from one daily flight to two daily flights.

"The plane holds 150 people, so it can be anywhere from 140 to 150 (people) extra a day once these flights start," said Floyd.

That means roughly a thousand more people a week going to restaurants, seeing shows, and having fun.

"I'm excited to see the growth here," said Spillman.

E-mail: acabrero@desnews.com

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