GATESVILLE — After numerous resignations and some three years of rocky beginnings, the budding Coryell County Economic Development Board approved and funded a countywide strategic plan to attract business and promote growth in the decades to come.
At the Gatesville Civic Center on Thursday afternoon, board members heard from Susan Yanofsky, a Dallas-based economic development consultant. Originally based in Massachusetts, Yanofsky’s firm “specializes in business attraction and retention programs, economic analysis and strategic planning, feasibility and permitting guidance, economic development financing and small business assistance,” according to her website.
Board members plan to use at least $34,000 of the $38,300 given to the EDB by Coryell County commissioners for fiscal year 2015 to pay Yanofsky, whose proposals and recommendations will come over the next four months.
“I want to ask you to put your hands up and tell me how likely are you to recommend Coryell County to a business,” Yanofsky said Thursday. “I want everyone to raise your hand and give me a number 1 through 5, 5 being the best.”
As hands went up, most raised five and four fingers to signify their confidence in Coryell County’s ability to attract a new business. But some held up only three fingers.
“We’re not ready for some of the major industries,” said Dick Van Dyke, a former American Red Cross executive, stock broker and insurance agency owner who is on the Coryell EDB and held up three fingers. “That’s what we’re trying to do now,
is to get the compatible businesses and the infrastructure that’ll support those.”
Infrastructure and water access is a major issue in many areas of Coryell County. Others attending said countywide Internet access is an issue for developing business interests, especially in technology fields.
“A lot of times the money for infrastructure isn’t going to be there until you get the company,” Yanofsky said.
In May, Marty Smith and Sam Golden resigned from the Coryell EDB. At the time, Golden suggested the board be dissolved after an EDB request to hire Austin consulting firm Angelou Economics for $60,000 over two years was rejected by county commissioners, according to previous Herald reports.
A few months later, in August, Fred Chavez also resigned, citing the need to finish a doctoral degree and to spend time with family.
In an interview, Smith, who now sits on the Copperas Cove City Council, said she resigned due to the Coryell EDB’s lack of transparency.
“We had a difference of opinion and I felt that the board needed to have some more transparency at that time,” Smith said. “I believe in public transparency and the board did not respond to my beliefs, so I resigned.”
Since then, however, Smith said the Coryell EDB has grown out of its secrecy, evidenced in part by Thursday’s open meeting.
“They work closely with our EDC here in Copperas Cove, which I think is really helping them grow that economic development board,” Smith said. “In the future, I think everything will be great. It will all turn out positive for Coryell County.”
Polo Enriquez, executive director of the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation, agreed that continued transparency will serve the county’s board well.
“A well-informed populace is really going to help you,” Enriquez said. “The more open you are, the more transparent you are, the more available these meetings are to the public, the better off you will be.”
Like any new startup, there have been bumps in the road.
Attempts by the board to elicit enough money to start a countywide strategic economic development plan were met with resistance by Coryell County commissioners, according to board members, but things are turning around, said Mary Beth Harrell, Coryell EDB president.
“We had growing pains obviously because planned economic development is a new concept for Coryell County,” she said. “It took awhile for our constituency to understand what that was and that it’s a huge investment in the future and not a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.”
Harrell said the hard times are behind the board, which has begun to develop the relationships and trust with other municipal organizations needed to achieve economic growth in the county.
“If you want to prevent any misunderstanding and promote growth, you have to know each other, trust each other and talk to each other, and I think that’s been a big part of the mission of the board, at least since last fall,” Harrell said.
At Thursday’s meeting, the Coryell EDB had some decisions to make: either wait for Yanofsky’s strategic plan to run its course in order to make a more compelling argument for a budget shortfall of some $7,000 or make a plea for more money at the next commissioners court meeting in April. The board also could request about half of the $7,000 shortfall, which would provide some funds for marketing and education.
After some discussion, the board decided to table the request for more money for another time, citing the need “to let this cool off a little bit,” as Eric Kietzer, the Coryell EDB’s vice president put it.
“I think the commissioners are in a position where if they give it to us, they’re going to have to give to all the other departments,” Kietzer said.
“My take in the matter is we were given a budget at the beginning of the year to deal with and they want us to stay within that budget that they set for us.”
The board voted on a steering committee to help Yanofsky move the development plan forward, and as the meeting came to a close, those involved in Coryell County’s economic development said they’re ready to turn the page and work closely with one another.
“We all are on the right path here. We all work for the same people and we all are working to improve the economy of the county,” Enriquez said. “It doesn’t make any difference where we lay our heads at the end of the evening.”