STEPHEN HEMELT — Local leaders must keep economic development in focus

Published 12:05 am Saturday, August 13, 2022

For our communities to best serve the people, the municipal leaders in Port Arthur and Mid County must keep economic development at the forefront of their focus.

Economic development provides a bridge to the future while laying the groundwork for our young people to find gainful employment at home.

If we can keep our children home long enough to raise their families here, then we are successful.

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That is best accomplished through economic development.

Port Arthur, Nederland, Groves and Port Neches serve their residents when there is strong leadership at the top of economic development and a clear plan for action executed each day.

Paying attention to the success and tactics of others is also vital so no entity’s approach puts ALL of its eggs in one basket.

Thankfully, by and large, that is taking place here.

When thinking about this topic recently, I was drawn to the Orange City Council, which approved two major EDC Infrastructure Grant Agreements this week, one not to exceed $150,000 and the other not to exceed $80,000.

The larger of the two is with SULZER Electro Mechanical Services, which has indicated to city leaders there is going to be a $1.5 million capital investment at Phase 1 of its project site.

SULZER Electro Mechanical Services is located at 3904 Tulane Road.

The second agreement is with Little Texas Teahouse, which is proposing a $200,000 capital investment in its project site at 308 Border Street.

Although these businesses secured city council support, they were not handed cash or a check.

Now, the work really begins — for the businesses to deliver what they are proposing and for the city to collect and review all invoices and receipts associated with the project work.

Only when everything is complete and verified by both parties can the businesses receive the funds that were approved this week.

The process is drawn out for a reason, according to Leigh Anne Dallas.

The City of Orange events manager and Economic Development Corporation assistant director said everyone wants to see the best economic development possible.

“We’re so careful and so particular,” she told Port Arthur Newsmedia. “You can’t throw around those funds. We just want people to do it right the first time, because it is so much easier to get in front of the things and walk people through it if they do it the right way. We want to make sure people are very educated on the process.”

The process is designed to be business-friendly.

If business leaders are willing to put their hard-earned money into Orange, the city’s reimbursement grant program works as a “thank you.”

For municipalities in Orange County, this program is unique to the City of Orange.

There is an 8.25 percent sales tax, and 1.5 percent of that 8.25 percent collected in city limits goes to the city. Of that, .5 percent goes exclusively into the EDC account, which is a restricted fund that can only be used for infrastructure improvement or expansion with new or existing businesses in the city of Orange.

That is why shopping local is important, as community leaders constantly stress. Larger sales tax payments equal more money that can go into the community from the EDC fund.

Those interested in seeking reimbursement must be located in city limits and outline exactly what reimbursement they are seeking funding for, which could include concrete pouring and HVAC systems, among other things.

“No other city in Orange County has an EDC that has the ability to do this,” Dallas said. “We really are lucky in that sense. If (the request) is approved, then we do a public hearing, that is when (the public can) come and listen.

“(Business leaders) give their spiel, usually the project owner. They have their renderings, which allows the community, the media, the city council and the EDC board a chance to see their projects and hear from the project owner. It is a public hearing. You are welcome to ask questions. It’s posted in The Orange Leader and always posted on our website.”

The EDC board either approves or denies the request, then city council members decide if they approve it.

There is also a 60-day waiting period and two public readings.

“We really walk through the project with our project owners hand-in-hand because we want them to be successful,” Dallas said. “The more we grow, the more successful we are. We help them out as much as we can.

Those would like to learn more can call 409-221-3325.

 

Stephen Hemelt is the president of Port Arthur Newsmedia, which publishes panews.com and The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@panews.com or 409-721-2445.