By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
Officials of area businesses and supporting organizations are starting the year grateful for the stability that Fort Hood continues to bring despite the mild slump caused by continued deployments. The even keel of the local economy is enabling a lot of big plans while the rest of the country bites its nails over a possible recession.
"The pace of growth and prosperity should accelerate," said Phyllis Gogue, vice president of economic development at the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce. "The Economic Development Division of the chamber is working on some projects that will create jobs and expand the customer base for local businesses. We hope to make some announcements soon. When they're added to the Toyota and Panda Energy plants in Temple and the additional troops coming to Fort Hood, the steady growth we've been seeing should take a sharp upward turn."
Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce president Bill Kozlik echoed her optimism. "The prospects for the next five years are staggering," he said. "Market Heights hasn't completely taken shape yet. We need some different types of stores, more of a variety, but the center is a reality. Properties are taken all along Farm Road 2410.
Now it's just a matter of getting infrastructure in place, but it's all planned out well. It's just a question of how fast the plans will come true."
He said a company he can't name yet is considering building a gated community for people in middle age and senior years. "We need something like that," he said. "A lot more people will move here and stay here if we get it." He said the town is also looking forward to another elementary and middle school and a vocational high school.
"The housing market is a little soft right now, but it hasn't dropped off, by any means," he said.
Local banks also seem to regard happy times as a certainty. Vice president and marketing director Michelle Burnett of First National Bank Texas pointed to two free-standing branches to open in 2008 – one in Heights and one in Copperas Cove. "They will be identical in design," she said, "with approximately 4,400 square feet, four drive-through lanes and a drive-through ATM. This design will be the first of our new statewide bank branch concept. Upon completion, the design will be submitted for Leadership Energy Environmental Design certification through the U.S. Green Building Council."
The bank has already held a groundbreaking for the Cove branch, planned for opening in the second quarter at 107 W. U.S. 190. The Heights branch, at 201 E. Central Texas Expressway, is scheduled for opening in the third quarter.
Brian Townley, senior vice president of National Banks of Central Texas, said the Waco-based company did an extensive demographic study in the last quarter of 2007 and decided the area needs an expanded choice of mortgage products in the wake of the nationwide subprime mortgage debacle. The bank also plans an expanded variety of business loans for all sizes of businesses.
"We'll also add one person dealing exclusively with requests for car loans," he said.
"A lot of people don't realize that our bank can loan up to $5 million to one person or entity. This kind of versatility is what's needed to keep the Killeen area moving forward."
Marketing director Mardi Redlin, of Killeen Mall, said all stores reporting said they had exceeded their goals for the Christmas season.
"I can't name them yet, but we'll have some new stores coming in 2008," she said. "A new Auntie Anne's pretzel store just opened, and Wandering Cowboy has completely renovated its store."
Jimmy Murray, a manager and board member at Harker Heights Plaza, also said a couple of new tenants may be coming there. The revived plaza is now largely a restaurant and entertainment complex.
"We'll keep going with what's been working and try some new things," he said. "The Events Center has been a good venue for music, and we hope now to introduce some theater and other variety. We don't know what will work best there, but we'll try some different things."
He said, "I don't see how the economic outlook here could be much better. Killeen just annexed half the state, and with all the new businesses and new troops coming in, there will be much more demand for building trades, transportation, food and fuel. Things are just good overall."
Because of continued troop deployments, people who deal with building and real estate are not quite as upbeat, but they express gratitude that the stability afforded by Fort Hood has kept the housing market from the slump most of the country is slogging through.
"We've set higher goals than last year," said Jose Segarra, of Exit Homevets Realty. "And we plan to add 10 new agents to our present 15 in 2008. Everyone seems to have a positive outlook."
Developer Jim Wright said his company, detecting a shortage of office space, plans to erect a new office building in Killeen, but he's not ready to reveal the location.
He said his New Year's resolution for his company is "better customer service toward everyone we deal with."
Carol Bass of B&B Builders of Belton, incoming president of the Central Texas Homebuilders Association, said, "We've had a slow start to the year, but business will pick up in the spring, and for some reason, an election year is usually good for this business. And 3,000 more troops will be coming in March.
"Are sales as strong as they could be here? No. But we're insulated, and we're in a much better position than some areas. Some people may be a little slower to buy because of all the negative publicity about the housing market in the media, and we need to counteract that in this market. Things are going to be stable."
She said her company will focus more on single-family homes rather than fourplexes because new city regulations requiring fire sprinkler systems, added ground space and rear parking have made them more expensive to build and therefore to rent, discouraging the California investors who had provided much of the market for multi-family units. "They'll be prettier, but the bottom has dropped out of that market," she said.
She said the CTHBA is planning to start a scholarship program during the year and will be seeking many new members.
Sam Kanouse said his Management and Training Consultants Inc. is refurbishing a 77,000-square-foot building in Gatesville for remanufacturing heavy vehicles.
They're talking to several companies about sending the work here.
"We're recession-free here," he said. "There's nervousness about possible recession elsewhere, but we're strong enough to withstand ongoing deployments for a couple of years, and lots of troops and families regard this area as home."
"We're still in the Middle East for the long haul, but the economic situation here will probably get no worse than it is. Military dollars will continue to flow.
"Because of new businesses coming in and new jobs supporting them, we have a moderate increase in the local economy, but we still need more of an industrial base. We're addressing this in Gatesville, and that plant will have effects throughout the area, but we're looking for other projects based closer to home.
"This area is far more progressive than when I was growing up here in the 1970s," he said. "As long as the current level of employment holds, the economy will continue to grow."
Optimism seems to be pervasive all the way down to the smallest businesses. Joyce Hodson of Let's Pretend Parties said, "I am going to add some new 'tween themes' to market birthday parties for young girls ages 9 to 12. I plan to expand the training program for the young people who work with Let's Pretend. I hope to add magicians and continue to train clowns and balloon twisters.
"I think the influx of new troops to the area will boost the economy, and my business will continue to grow."
Contact Don Bolding at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7557