BELTON — The American Advertising Federation-Central Texas’ monthly luncheon Friday served as the backdrop for an update to Bell County’s ongoing economic development.
The organization hosted a panel discussion with representatives from the Belton, Temple, Killeen and Copperas Cove economic development corporations.
The overarching message of the event was the need to focus not on the individual towns, but on the regional economy.
“No matter what high school you graduated from, new employers don’t see a line between Temple and Belton,” said Charlie Ayers, Temple Economic Development Corporation’s vice president. “We’ve grown up to the point that we have to think bigger.”
“Thinking bigger” for economic development professionals means shifting focus from cities and towns to the Temple-Killeen-Fort Hood metropolitan statistical area.
Cynthia Hernandez, executive director of the Belton Economic Development Corporation, said when she is trying to attract a business, “it’s not about our population of 18,000; it’s about the population of the metropolitan statistical area.”
A large-scale investment in one city, like the $25 million, 45,000-square-foot Don-Nan Pump & Supply warehouse that will be constructed in Temple, benefits everyone, Hernandez said.
The economic future of the region is based on an all-encompassing approach. Cities need to foster all segments of their economy, including the recreation and service industry, Ayers said.
Out of the combined 70,000 jobs in the Temple and Belton area, half are held by people who commute to other locations every night, he added.
“For the longest time, Temple was focused on industry and manufacturing,” Ayers said. “And about three to five years ago we realized that if you have a lot of places to work but don’t have any place to eat people won’t stay.”
One of the major events expected to directly affect the economic future of the region is the construction along U.S. Highway 190, said Phyllis Gogue, the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce’s vice president for economic development.
“What you’re seeing along U.S. 190 now is what it’s going to do for us,” Gogue said. “We’ve been working for 10 years to get it dual designated as an interstate.”
A dual designation for the highway should give the cities along the U.S. 190 corridor — Belton, Nolanville, Harker Heights, Killeen and Copperas Cove — some economic advantages that will help attract more businesses, Gogue said.
“It will be co-signed as an interstate between I-10 and I-20, probably I-12 or I-14,” Gogue said. “It will allow us to qualify for more projects.”