Economic development conference promotes regionalism

Published 3:28 pm Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Economic developers from Mid-and South Jefferson County cities shared success stories from their communities Tuesday while learning that, as a region, Southeast Texas will be more successful in attracting new business and industry.
That message was delivered Wednesday during the Economic Development Summit held at the Carl Parker Center Port Arthur.
“Economic development means better jobs for our citizens,” Brian McDougal, Port Arthur city manager, said.
McDougal, who has led the city since January, said he has never seen economic development with partnerships like the ones in Southeast Texas.
Forming regional partnerships is what drives economic development for the entire area,” Karl Segura, manager of business development with Entergy Texas, said.
Segura was first to address those in attendance with a segment called, “Economic Development 101.”
“I am most proud of the way this area has worked together as a team,” Segura said.
Economic development does not happen overnight, and it takes a lot of hours to land a company during today’s competitive market.
When a company first starts looking for a new site to expand or build, they look at several, and eliminate those that don’t fit their criteria first.
The stakes are as high as they are competitive.
“Just about every time we work on a petrochemical project, we are competing with Louisiana,” he said.
Segura has been with Entergy for 34 years, and worked in the company’s economic development sector for 30 years.
“We realized a long time ago as a community grows and prospers, so will our company,” he said.
Typically, when a company is scouting for a new home, they take a hard look at a community’s workforce, Segura said.
Providing incentives to entice a company to do business in a community has become a necessary evil, he said.
“If you are not doing it, you are not in the game,” he said. “Incentives won’t make a bad site good, but they will make a good site better.”
Jessica Hill, vice president of economic development with the Regional Economic Development Initiative, stressed the importance of marketing a community as a region.
“We pool our resources so we can do bigger things,” she said.
Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation Director Floyd Batiste said it was important to develop trust and relationships in order to be successful in economic development.
Workforce issues have been a big issue in Port Arthur. So much so, that the EDC has developed work training programs designed to get local residents ready to work.
“Here in Port Arthur my board has put a lot of emphasis on training the local workforce. And, they have put their money where their mouth is to do so.”
Kay Decuir, director of the Nederland Economic Development Corporation, detailed how the city is committed to focusing on its smaller businesses, which make up 80 percent of the city’s business community.
Nederland, Decuir said, is currently experiencing a real estate boon, with the housing market exploding while trying to keep pace with a growing population.
In Port Neches, the success story is the city’s development of its riverfront property.
Since the Wheelhouse opened about a year the popular restaurant has contributed $923,000 in payroll, $218,000 in sales tax, $218,000 in liquor taxes and employees an average of 60 people.
D. Sosa, Groves city manager and economic developer, said the city faced two big challenges a little more than a decade ago when Walmart moved out of the city and K-mart closed down.
The losses were a big blow to the city, Sosa said.
“We had to make up a half-million in sales taxes,” he said.
The city started small, offering incentives to existing businesses to spruce of their store fronts. At the same time, people who rebuilt where dilapidated homes had been torn down, were paid an incentive by the city.
Groves, known as a bedroom community, continues to grow when other area cities do not.
In 2005, the city’s population was 15,733. U.S. Census totals put the population at 16,144 in 2010 and five years later, according to water customer records, the city’s population has grown to 17,376.
The city has also increased its sales tax in the 10 year period by $1 million and the city’s tax rate has gone down, Sosa said.
Maintaining the city’s housing stock has factored in the growth. When other communities are drawing in the big industries and businesses, Groves is providing a place for them to live.
“We’ve had some big success with simple programs,” he said.
Twitter: sherryPANews

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