By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
The Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce is looking forward to a change of command this fall with at least one crowning achievement in the past year and another soon to follow, but leaders see a more profound task, with results less easily measured, to be educating the public about worldwide social shifts that can make or break communities depending on how well they adjust to them.
The big achievement in 2008 was the beginning of Oshkosh Truck Corp.'s operations here. The Wisconsin-based extreme-terrain vehicle manufacturer has started the production of truck cabs in an existing 230,000-square-foot building in Killeen Industrial Park with a pilot work force of 40 and plans to expand indefinitely.
Depending on many factors, it may eventually need to add on to the building or otherwise find additional space to build combat vehicles for the Army or produce heavy civilian vehicles such as fire engines and cement mixers.
Outgoing GKCC board chair Patton Kaufman said, "Credit for making sure we were the most attractive place for them actually belongs more to the Killeen Economic Development Corp. and the Killeen Industrial Foundation, but chamber president John Crutchfield was one of the most instrumental figures. It's going to help us far into the future."
Kaufman, president of First Texas Bank, will pass the board chair's gavel to Jerry Haisler at the chamber's annual banquet Sept. 16.
Haisler, director of the Killeen center of Workforce Solutions of Central Texas, has been active in the chamber on behalf of the WSCT and its parent Texas Workforce Commission for several years. The TWC was reorganized in 1996 to pass much authority to 28 regional affiliates with a mandate to join in the business community to understand its needs rather than just seek job openings.
Crutchfield, who as president is the full-time executive director of the chamber, said plans are being formed for a 200-acre multi-use development to include retail. Plans are in their infancy and very general, but he said the ultimate reality is reasonably sure.
"We're big enough now that we need something like that," he said.
All three men talked about the growing role of the Central Texas Economic Corridor, an organization of leaders of the economic development corporations of Temple, Belton, Killeen and Copperas Cove and the WSCT. It figures in the new concept of "place design" to shape communities into what new companies – or home-grown companies – and the types of key employees they want to see.
After a meeting in April with consultant Rebecca Ryan, the CTEC asked Next Generation Consulting of Madison, Wis., to develop what the company calls "handprints" of the entire corridor and the individual cities to gauge basic services and lifestyle, educational and employment opportunities.
"We know Killeen doesn't have the optimum of all those factors," Haisler said, "but all together, we do, and developing as a region is going to be the key to our ability to compete with the metropolitan areas.
"We already work closely with the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, which has a wealth of information about demographics," he said. "Everybody is interested in the talent coming out of Fort Hood."
Kaufman listed that as a defining factor in everything about the area. Haisler pointed out that Oshkosh, for example, is going to need a lot of the skills that exiting and retiring soldiers have, and at the company's grand opening, officials of Oshkosh and the Army Training Command ceremonially signed an agreement by which the Army develops transferable skills and the company gives priority consideration to veterans possessing them.
New models of economic development
Crutchfield said Killeen has been the pace-setter in place design, with a team chaired by Killeen Independent School District Superintendent Jim Hawkins working on it.
Crutchfield said, "The old model of economic development was that you hired somebody to promote the existing strengths of the community, and if you landed an industry, the local economy would rise and fall on its fortunes. And as employers, the industries didn't need especially-skilled people.
"Things are a lot different now. The economy is not manufacturing-based but knowledge-based. It takes technically savvy people in a lifelong learning mode, and increasingly, their work can be done anywhere there's an Internet hookup. The people you need will live where they can get what they want. So what you have to do is incubate companies and design the environment to offer what professionals want to get them to settle here."
In the draft of a white paper written for the team, Crutchfield discusses the new global nature of marketing and says, "In the new model, success is defined by attracting manufacturing, encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship, removing constraints to the growth of existing business, incubating emerging technologies, and attracting the right retail development."
He quotes authorities as saying the people who drive the new information age are looking for authenticity, access to technology, horizontal career paths, immigration, low barriers to entry, diversity, tolerance and lifestyle opportunities.
Authenticity is local identity, and he says Killeen doesn't have much of it yet. He sees the answer in
developing the city center with local enterprise and culture.
His considerations of these needs are high on the list of reasons the whole region is pressing for the establishment of Texas A&M University-Central Texas.
Haisler said, "We have new development needs. For example, when we were talking to Oshkosh, they said they need welders. We said, 'OK, we've got them. They said, 'You don't understand. We need welders who can read blueprints and understand an entire project start to finish.' We need the kind of place that can attract such people or keep them here, if they're coming from the military, We need a technical learning environment, a place where both partners in a marriage can get a good job, their kids can get a good education, there's top-notch health care, entertainment and culture."
No one discounts the continued importance of manufacturing, but there's every indication much of it will keep going overseas, so a region has to raise up knowledge-based enterprise of its own and attract collaborators who could as easily be somewhere else.
'A few grand slams ...a lot of singles'
It's a long and continuing process, so Kaufman, assessing the chamber's successes, says, "We only hit a few grand slams, but we hit a lot of singles. Not much happens overnight. We keep working on the A&M project, on the second runway at the airport, the expansion of Darnall Army Community Hospital into a medical research center.
"One of our most important activities is Leadership Killeen, where we take promising young talent to develop into community leaders. We're fostering a young professionals group to ensure a continuous infusion of new leadership. This keeps the momentum going, which increases our collective confidence."
He notices a big change in people's lifestyle desires.
"Decades ago, life was work, and work was life. Now people would rather have more time off than a raise. One of Austin's great attractions is that it has so many unique things, not only great jobs, but great places to play. These are things we need to understand, and here, we must learn what retiring soldiers want.
"Since Killeen passed 100,000 population, we've really gotten onto a lot of computer screens. But if we don't understand what 'place' means, we're just a leaf in the wind."
Contact Don Bolding at email@example.com or (254) 501-7557.